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Dickens Festival

Harbor Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Sometimes I think how lucky I am to live here. One of those times was this past week when my life was greatly enhanced by what is around me. Now I don’t want to come off as a Pollyanna. There are also times when I’m not feeling so lucky — as when the property tax bill arrives, which it will shortly and with a new total that includes a compounded increase. Fortunately, I only have to think about that twice a year but, on the upside, I can appreciate regularly the advantages of village living.

I will share with you what happened last week, in chronological order. On Wednesday, Dec. 4, I went to an Emerson String Quartet concert at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center. The Emerson is a world-famous act, whose upcoming performances are heralded on large posters in front of Lincoln Center in New York City. But I don’t have to go into the city to hear them play superbly on an evening. And I don’t have to pay exorbitant prices to park my car or spend many minutes looking for a distant parking place. 

Here, I can park in the adjacent SBU garage for free — one of my favorite four-letter words. I also don’t have to drive two hours to get to the concert site and then two hours back late at night. In a matter of minutes, I can reach the campus, park the car and be in my seat waiting for the illustrious four to walk on stage and begin to play. I can return home without traffic in similar fashion. And the cost of the tickets to hear one of the most honored classical music groups on the globe? Little more than half of that charged in the Big Apple. After such a performance, I return home serenely happy.

That was Wednesday. On the Friday, I walked and rode along the pitch black roads of Old Field South, moving from house to house for the Three Village Historical Society’s Candlelight House Tour. The harrowing driving in the maze of streets that make up that development, built by tycoon Ward Melville starting in 1929, was rewarded by the bright lights and cheer inside the homes open for a walk-through. The homes are artfully decorated and several members of the society tell us about the history of each. All of that is donated for the sake of the organization. And did I mention the food? There are tidbits and wine at each stop on the Friday night event, supplied generously by local restaurants. There were six houses, plus Old Field Farm, on the fundraising tour, which ends with lots more food and drink at the Old Field Club. It seems like half the community turns out for the festivities.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that while I love history, with its stories and larger-than-life people, I am also an incorrigible snoop when it comes to checking out the insides of people’s homes. One can tell so much about those that dwell there and also get a couple of decorating ideas for one’s own abode.

Then Sunday afternoon I capped a visit to the Dickens Festival in beautifully decorated Port Jefferson with a performance of that holiday favorite, “The Nutcracker.” This one was presented by the Harbor Ballet Theatre and the talented students of Amy Tyler School of Dance, with the help of a trio of marvelous New York City professionals. For 10 years straight I saw “The Nutcracker” at City Center in Manhattan. It was a holiday tradition as I was growing up, but I had not seen the ballet since then until this thrilling show. I was reminded all over again how charming a ballet and how much I love Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s music.

A quick trip then to the grand tree lighting on the Stony Brook village green, and then back to my living room. I say, this was not a bad way to spend a weekend, all nasty cracks about the sterile suburbs aside. Yes, I enjoy the delights of the city, but they are hard to compare with the comforts of home.

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Thousands of people were swept up in a wave of holiday cheer as the Port Jefferson Village played host to 23rd annual Charles Dickens Festival from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.

A score of volunteers, all dressed up in mid-19th century garb including not a small amount of chimney soot, walked around the village shaking hands and singing carols as if straight out of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “A Christmas Carol.” Attendees had the opportunity to view the village’s festival of trees, make cookies and ornaments, participate in a gingerbread house contest, ice skate and watch several live music, theater and dance performances, all while walking through village streets with stores all dressed up in seasonal decorations.

The North Country Peace Group attends Port Jefferson’s Dickens Festival for a sixth consecutive year to share their message about social injustices. Photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson’s 21st annual Dickens Festival brought together members of the community and neighboring areas for a weekend full of events based off Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol” Dec. 3 and 4. But for a group of local activists, the event was a reminder about social consciousness.

The North Country Peace Group, established in December 2002, has been periodically visible on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket to share its message. For the last six years members of the group have used the village’s holiday festival to expand their audience.

Myrna Gordon, a member of the group since its inception, was among the people passing out informational flyers and holding props in front of their faces to simulate being behind bars, which included the message “Debtor’s Prison — Justice for some, not for all,” among others with similar themes.

The group believes in nonviolent activism as a means to combat social injustice, poverty and inequality. They use the festival as a platform to highlight analogous issues in Charles Dickens 19th century London and present-day America.

“It’s important that people don’t forget while they’re moving around and being festive and being joyful, that we have a lot of things in our country that are filled with social injustice, economic injustice, class injustice — and we’d like to bring attention to it to let people think about it,” Gordon said while standing on the corner of East Main Street and Main Street in Port Jeff Village, where the group set up shop for the afternoon. “While they probably have thought about it for the last 18 months, it’s something that we’ve been doing here for six years now, and we feel it’s important to be part of this event. I’m a Port Jefferson resident, so I feel that this is my way of making a statement but in a different way.”

Gordon referenced the outcome of the presidential election as evidence that instances of social injustice may be heading in the wrong direction in 2016 America. She said she was concerned about the future of the Supreme Court, health care for women and education, among other issues going forward as a result of Donald Trump’s (R) surprising victory.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said she had no problem with the group’s message or desire to use a popular village event to spread their message, given that they are conscious of keeping sidewalks and streets clear for festival attendees.

“That’s democracy at its highest form of expression,” she said during a phone interview. “I applaud them for taking time out of their day to come down and relay their message.”

Gordon has lived in Port Jefferson for almost 50 years, she said, and called the area a microcosm of the United States.

“I think Port Jefferson does have things that can be better, as in any small community,” she said.

Despite the celebratory nature of the event, which features performers in Dickensian attire, and the group’s use of props, Gordon said she wasn’t worried their message would be construed as part of the festival.

“They may not get the full scope of it, but I think once they see the signs a connection is being made,” she said. “Especially when they see the words ‘debtor’s prison,’ and then they read the contemporary statements underneath the signs. The same things went on then that are going on now.”

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Festival of Trees returns to the Village Center

A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage

The Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, in conjunction with the Village of Port Jefferson, will host the 20th Annual Charles Dickens Festival this weekend, Dec. 5 and 6, throughout the Village of Port Jefferson. The Village will magically transform into the Dickensian era, with streets filled with roaming characters such as Father Christmas, the Dickens Mayor, Scrooge, the Town Crier and the beloved chimney sweeps.

A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage
A scene from a previous year’s Charles Dickens Festival. Photo by Bob Savage

All events are open to the public and most attractions are free of charge. Begin your Dickens adventure with a Grand Opening Celebration Parade on East Main Street, Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

The festivities will feature many returning favorites, including ice skating at the Village Center, a cappella performances by choirs and harmony groups, Nutcracker performances, magic shows by The Great Wizard of the North, and many fine musical performances by area musicians. In addition, this year’s festival will feature Theatre Three’s 32nd annual production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Returning for its second year is the Festival of Trees, located on the second floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center. The festival was the brainchild of Jill Russell, who handles public relations for the Village. “I first saw it years ago in Oklahoma City, where I grew up. They [also] had something called Festival of Trees. It was almost like an international festival of trees. Different countries were represented,” said Russell in a recent phone interview.

Eighteen beautifully decorated trees will grace the second floor, decorated in various themes. New entries this year include the First United Methodist Church, Ace Hardware, the Fox and the Owl Inn, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Antique Costumes and Prop Rentals by Nan, Theatre Three and Olde Town Gardens, whose tree will feature a train.

Returning favorites include, among others, Jolie Powell Realty, Port Jefferson Rotary, Stony Brook Confucius Institute, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Bridgehampton National Bank, Danfords Hotel and Marina, Friends of the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and Red Sled. In addition, top sponsors Empire National Bank and Maia Salon Spa and Wellness will also showcase a tree in the festival.

The trees were set up last weekend and the designers came in on Sunday and Monday to decorate. The event has really taken off. “We still get people asking ‘How do you get a tree?’ It is wildly popular,” said Russell. “It goes through the month of December, and it is so beautiful and people enjoy it so much because they come to ice skate, they come to see the trees — both things feed off of one other; they go look at the gallery exhibit. It just breathes a whole new life to the Village Center. With the ice rink and the Festival of Trees, it has been really incredible.”

“Already, in year two, it has become competitive — with not what you do to your tree but how you embellish the tree and the surrounding area and how you create a theme,” she laughed. “It’s been fun.”

New to the Dickens Festival this year will be an event titled Let There Be Light, a dazzling light show projected on Village Hall. Animated characters will appear in the front windows surrounded by swirling Christmas decorations, giant snowflakes and sparkly stars. The presentation will be available for viewing during the weekend from 6 to 7:30 p.m., on the half hour, for 15 minutes of dazzling fun and will be shown each weekend leading up to Christmas — weather permitting. The Harbormaster building will be transformed into Cookieland, where children can decorate their own holiday-oriented cookies and houses.

As in past years, East Main Street will become Dickens Alley, and Fezziwig’s Ball, featuring live music on traditional instruments led by a dance caller, will take place at the Masonic Lodge. An impressive model train display will be featured on the corner of East Main and Main on Dec. 5, from noon to 5 p.m. and Dec. 6, from noon to 4 p.m., while the Port Jefferson Free Library will feature new programming and the fabulous Dickens Cottage next to the main building.

Horse and carriage rides will thrill the young and young-at-heart, and the trolley will help transport visitors to various venues throughout the Village for the entire weekend. The Port Jeff Jitney bus will transport visitors to and from downtown, from the free parking areas found outside the Village.

 This year’s honoree is Pat Darling Kiriluk, the creator of a holiday tradition and highlight of the festival — Santa’s Workshop, located at the corner of W. Broadway and Barnum Avenue. Join Santa and his elves and wind through three whimsically decorated rooms. Twinkling white lights, elaborate confection displays, and giant nutcrackers are just a few of the signature elements that bring the magic of Christmas to life. The workshop will be open weekends from 1 to 5 p.m. through Dec. 14.

The 20th Annual Dickens Festival will conclude with a Parade of Puppets and a ceremony at Village Hall on Sunday evening. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.pjdickens.com.