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Charles Dickens Festival

The community came together in Port Jefferson Village over the weekend to embody a famous quote from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

Dec. 2 and 3 marked the 22nd annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jeff, an event that brings out locals and visitors to take part in a weekend full of events, activities, performances and parades. Attendees were treated to ice skating, cookie decorating, a display of decorated Christmas trees with various themes, street performances by actors portraying people from the Dickens era, horse-drawn carriage rides, toasted marshmallows, Christmas carols and much more.

Every year the organizers of the event select honorees and dedicate the festival in their name. This year, George and Karen Overin, two long-time Dickens Festival participants and volunteers, were recognized.

“Perhaps there are no two people that better represent the joy, the feeling of family, and, indeed, the magic of this cherished weekend that has captured the imagination of people from around the globe,” the dedication to the honorees read in part.

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This is a big THANK YOU to the Village of Port Jefferson and all those who worked hard to transform the village into the Charles Dickens Festival. For the 21st year in a row, the seaside village came to life in the time of Dickens, with decorations, lights, greenery and especially costumed characters roaming the streets and welcoming visitors. This year, a second THANK YOU for naming us, Times Beacon Record News Media, the honoree for the event.

The entire weekend was a thrill, for us and for the thousands of people who chatted with the characters, shopped in the many varied stores, ate in the wide selection of restaurants, rode in the horse-drawn carriage, enjoyed the festival of trees and took in the harbor views. How do I know? I asked the festivalgoers, because I was there every day from Thursday to Sunday, and they told me how they decided to come into the village. Some came from Connecticut, enthusiastic about the magical event because they had visited before and knew of the many fun activities. It also helped that Port Jefferson ferry general manager, Fred Hall, offered a two-for-one price special during the weekend. The 10:30 a.m. boat on Saturday morning had 300 walk-ons alone, and they came without cars so no parking problems, and they had money in their pockets to spend for a good time. And people came from towns to the east and west, responding to the publicity and reputation surrounding the annual fantasy on the Long Island Sound.

Everyone might take the festival for granted after all these years, but I know how it came about because I was also there at the beginning. It was the brainchild of Jeanne Garant, the mayor at the time and mother of the present mayor, Margot Garant. Jeanne, a woman of vision, wanted the many organizations and groups to come together and work as a whole on a project to strengthen the sense of community and to celebrate the village. And she figured it wouldn’t hurt if the project helped the local businesses. So the first weekend in December was designated as the ideal time to capture some of the holiday shopping, and the theme was to be the Dickens stories and characters, who would come alive during those couple of days. And so it happened.

This was no small project to get the organizers’ arms around. Among those invited to offer their talents and to hold special events was the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, which would become the managing body alongside Port Jefferson Village, the historical society, the school district, the churches, various cultural paeans like Theatre Three (“A Christmas Carol”) and Harbor Ballet Theatre (“The Nutcracker”), the chamber of commerce and the civics, the constables, the ferry company, music groups, the harbormaster, the individual businesses and the residents just for starters. Events were designed for all age groups.

Eventually the Currier & Ives-like ice skating rink — another Jeanne Garant idea — joined the enchanting picture. And a special THANK YOU to nationally famed and charming confection artist, Pat Darling, for once again creating the whimsical Santa’s Workshop in the historic Drowned Meadow Cottage on West Broadway.

There are new offerings each year, and this past weekend Mrs. Cratchit’s Colorful Christmas Crafts was one such in the Village Center, along with an expanded Festival of Trees that each sponsor creatively decorated.

Port Jefferson Village was rich with events running through Saturday and Sunday. Indeed, it required more than two full pages in our Official Festival Guide just to list them in their many different locations hosted by the various community groups. So the original vision of a unified village has once again been realized. And the businesses were delighted with the results. “Never had an empty table all weekend,” one restaurateur said. “Shoppers buying all afternoon,” a jewelry store owner said.

Dickensian pleasure will go on throughout December this year, with the decorations and specials. And I would like to end on a personal note. I have watched countless parades in my lifetime as a child, a mother and a grandmother, but until this weekend, I had never been on a parade float. As the honoree of the Dickens weekend, I got to ride atop the ferry float and to wave at the thousands of people and shower them with (artificial) snow as they waved back, calling out greetings. What fun! We are deeply honored to have been appreciated in this way.

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