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26th annual Charles Dickens Festival

Port Jefferson School District students with music teacher Edward Pisano (right). Photo courtesy PJSD

Members of the Port Jefferson School District music and fine arts department joined in the festivities of the annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson Village Dec. 2-4.

Music students and teachers entertained the spectators with seasonal songs during various performances throughout the village. Students in the district’s Drama Club assisted Santa at the Village Center in the elf workshop and served as background actors in the Stony Brook University film crew taping of the event.

“They did a fantastic job of interacting with the villagers and students and children just waiting to see Santa,” drama club adviser Tony Butera said.

The unique event was another opportunity for teachers and students to share their Port Jefferson School District award-winning talents in a public setting.

Attendees of the latern dedication. Photo courtesy Kevin Wood

Friends, family, and community members gathered on Friday, Dec. 2, to dedicate a lantern to the late Aida Ramonez, a beautiful young girl very dear to the Port Jefferson community. 

The community continues to come together for the Ramonez family, this being the latest example. Mayor Margot Garant shared her sentiments during the ceremony. 

“I see there are many of her classmates out here tonight and know when one family hurts, we all hurt,” Garant said. “We can’t think of a more beautiful thing than celebrating life. Look around you, look at all the people in your life and in this community and be so very grateful for what we have here together.” 

The inscription on Aida’s lantern reads, “In loving memory of Aida Esperanza Ramonez — Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Aida’s grandfather Ramon expressed his gratitude to those who coordinated the service. 

“I want to thank the community of Port Jefferson,” he said. “The love and kindness that we have felt from you. Losing someone so young and so precious has been difficult. But the support of a community like this makes it a lot easier.” 

The Port Jefferson School District and community raised the money for the lantern dedication. Funds raised beyond those necessary for the dedication ceremony will support a scholarship in Aida’s name. 

It’s tradition each year during the lantern dedications that students participate by reading a poem as a part of their curriculum. Students Luca Caltagirone and Blake Weaver eloquently shared the poem “Family is like a Circle” by Nicole M. O’Neil.

“This community is strong, and we’re here to support the Ramonez family still,” Garant said. “Every time we see this beautifully lit lantern, you’ll have a very special place to sit by the harbor and honor her spirit.”

Graphic from the Port Jefferson Village website

The Village of Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees met on Monday, Dec. 12, to review several important matters.

Mayor Margot Garant provided some key updates on the status of the stabilization projects at the East Beach bluff. At the toe of the bluff, the lower sea wall has already been installed along with its concrete cap. Construction will continue for several more months.

“That work will continue through the spring,” Garant said. “At some point, they will stop working during the severe winter, and in the springtime they will start to stabilize the bluff and plant and revegetate everything.”

At the upland, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club’s clubhouse facility hangs dangerously close to the bluff’s edge. In an exchange during the public comments, Garant stated the board is still exploring its upland options.

“We still don’t have enough information to decide to build [an upper wall], to put it out to the public [for referendum] or to decide to abandon [the clubhouse] and retreat,” she said. “We have decided to wait and let the phase I project be completed. … Right now, we are at a standstill with any major expenditures or advancements on phase II.”

Garant also gave an update on the status of the Port Jefferson Village Clean Solid Waste Landfill, a small kettle hole the village uses for branch and leaf pickup services. Though the village’s permit with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was set to expire on Dec. 11, the mayor said the agency would temporarily allow the village to continue its current use of the site.

“It looks like our paperwork was submitted in a timely manner to allow us to continue operations until we either have a renewed permit or we are redefined as a transfer station and not a landfill,” she said. For more on this intergovernmental permit dispute, see story, “Garbage grief: PJ Village and DEC clash over landfill permit.

Garant thanked New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for his decades of representing the Port Jefferson community. Englebright will leave office at the end of the month after narrowly losing last month to Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) during the midterm election.

The mayor recognized Englebright’s lasting impact, noting “the many, many things that he’s accomplished for this community, locally and also regionally, and the stewardship he has taken in terms of environmental preservation and saving a lot of our history.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden reported on some of the ongoing work within the Port Jefferson Planning Board regarding a proposed development by Conifer Realty located at the intersection of Main and Perry streets. This project, colloquially known as “Conifer II,” comes as Conifer’s Port Jefferson Crossing Apartments nears its grand opening.

Conifer II “is going to take the rest of the blighted block up there and turn it into a beautiful new building,” Snaden said. “We’ve been working very, very hard to make sure that the aesthetic of that building is in compliance with the whole plan, the master plan up there, with the current building that’s there, and everything works together and looks nice.”

The deputy mayor also announced an innovation concerning parking enforcement. An automatic license plate reader, or ALPR, attached to a code enforcement vehicle will soon replace parking enforcement operations. Snaden said the ALPR would assist the code department in generating overtime parking tickets on Main, with plans to move this technology into the metered parking lots.

“How that will affect you guys, the residents, is that there will be no parking stickers next year,” Snaden said. “You will go online and register the exact same way that you do. The only difference is that you will not be mailed an actual sticker. You will just be registered in the system by your license plate.”

Trustee Stan Loucks began his report by thanking the parks department staff, attributing much of the success of the village’s 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival to their efforts.

“The Dickens Festival turned out to be super successful, and I think a lot of it is due to the parks department and the hard work that they put in,” he said.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow, the village’s communications commissioner, reported on the recent formation of a communications team following an internal communications audit she conducted earlier this year. Kevin Wood heads the team, along with his duties as the village’s director of economic development and parking administrator. 

Sheprow referred to this as “a historic occasion” for the village government. “There are some hurdles and challenges there, no doubt, but I think that this group is up to the task to come together as a team,” she said.

The village board will reconvene Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 5 p.m.

During the 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson village, TBR News Media had a chance to catch up with some of those in attendance. During a series of one-on-one encounters throughout the event, we asked the attendees what this local tradition meant to them.

— Photos by Raymond Janis




Nancy Klimpel, Ronkonkoma

“The Port Jeff [Dickens] Festival, to me, means the beginning of the holiday season. It helps to bring people together, allows them to mix and mingle with different kinds of things and cultural opportunities, to see anything from a radio show to a small production, to a choir or some kind of orchestral choice. It really brings the joy of the season to others.”






George Overin, Bohemia

“When you walk down the street, the people you see are very heavy during the holiday season. It may seem really heavy for some people, but when they look up and see these two idiots in smoke and soot and everything else, going ‘Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to ya,’ they smile. You know what? For that second, the world is lifted off their shoulders. For us, that’s what this is all about: Giving a little bit of joy in the darkest time of the year for some people. There are some joys you can’t buy anywhere, and that’s what it means to me.”




Joseph McGowan, Middle Island

“Oh my goodness, where do I start? To bring joy to the local community, to put a smile on someone’s face, to make a little baby’s eyes light up, to see an elderly person — who probably lost a loved one at a recent time — to put a smile on their face, to bring joy and happiness to the whole community, and to bring the true spirit of Christmas into the hearts of everyone in the neighborhood and throughout the area.”





Bob Ogden, Setauket

“I’m going to micro in and break it down a little bit tighter, just to be selfish about the troop, the groups, and the street plays. Since September, I have liked to see these little guys’ and girls’ development. Walking in in September and saying, ‘Here’s a script. I want you to memorize it and act it by December,’ and to see their growth and how they gain confidence as they learn their lines, that’s what I like to see.”





“Jacob Marley,” Port Jefferson

“It’s an opportunity to introduce people to the wonderful storytelling of Charles Dickens. If you haven’t read ‘A Christmas Carol,’ you should or listen to the audiobook. It’s funny, it’s incisive and relevant to today. The message of Christmas being a time of giving — as opposed to a time of just getting things — I just love that feeling of the spirit of being generous.”






Russ Green, Sound Beach

“’A Christmas Carol,’ specifically, is a story of hope and redemption on many levels. The Dickens Fest as a whole, to me, means, more than anything, a time of coming together as a community, which is especially lacking in this day and age.”




The Village of Port Jefferson reignited a time-honored tradition last weekend during its 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Hundreds of community members, visitors, business groups and local organizations participated in the festivities from Friday, Dec. 2, to Sunday, Dec. 4. 

The show went on despite hard rains and gusting winds throughout the morning and early afternoon Saturday. Mayor Margot Garant, decked out in traditional Dickensian garb, commented on the turnout in the face of these conditions. 

“To me, it just shows how important this festival is to not just this community but kids coming from St. James and beyond who are coming to see Santa,” she said. “It’s just magic, and rain or shine we’re going to be doing Dickens.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden concurred with this positive outlook, regarding the festival as another means for community-building. “It’s heartwarming to see everybody still supporting this festival,” she said. 

Trustee Stan Loucks commented on the uniqueness of the opportunities afforded through the festival and the steady growth of the events over its nearly three decades in existence.

“It’s grown every single year, and it’s just the most festive time of the year,” he said, adding, “I love the whole atmosphere, the village center. It’s a very special place, and I look forward to this every year.”

The program across all three days was loaded with special events featuring the various elements that formulate this distinct village’s character. The heart of Port Jeff was on full display, from its downtown business sector to its local history, public institutions and more.

At the Bayles Boat Shop, local shipbuilders showcased their ongoing work to construct a 25-foot whaleboat honoring the village’s Revolutionary War heritage. 

John Janicek, treasurer of the boat shop’s nonprofit arm, the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, detailed how the whaleboat ties together various threads of Port Jeff’s historical roots.

“It not only ties in the historical aspect that Caleb Brewster performed here during the Revolutionary War and [the role] Port Jefferson played, but it also ties in our shipbuilding aspect, too,” Janicek said. “We’re getting a lot of support from the village on this. They see this as something the whole village can get their arms around and embrace, similar to the Dickens Festival.”

Over at the Drowned Meadow Cottage on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum, local historians greeted visitors with guided tours detailing Port Jefferson’s strategic position during the Revolutionary War. They shared stories of local patriots whose involvement in the Culper Spy Ring helped advance the cause of American independence.

Village historian Chris Ryon discussed how the Dickens Festival offers a platform to promote local history to residents and visitors alike.

“We take the people from Dickens and tell them how Port Jefferson was involved in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “It’s another group of people that we can bring in.”

Mark Sternberg, Culper Spy Ring historian at the Drowned Meadow Cottage, offered a unique take on Dickens. He remarked upon the intersection of the Dickensian and Revolutionary periods and how people today can relive tradition and rehear the lore of the past.

He said, referring to the American spies, “A lot of these people survived into the 1800s, and the stories of the American Revolution were told during the 1800s. For us to tell stories about the American Revolution as part of the Dickens Festival, it’s what they would have done.”

The historian added, “It’s keeping with the tradition of telling a story about the founding of our nation, even in later periods. Now Charles Dickens may not have talked about it because he was British, but here in America during the Victorian era, we would have.”

Along with stories of the past, the village exhibited the musical talents of local students. At the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School chamber orchestra delivered moving string performances, filling the library with festive tunes.

Their music teacher, Christian Neubert, summarized this Dickens custom. “For a number of years now, we’ve been coming to perform here at the library during the Dickens Festival,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get our students out for a performance and to get the community involved with our music program.”

Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools for Port Jefferson School District, was among the dozens of audience members at the library. She expressed pride in seeing the students perform before their fellow community members.

“It’s just amazing that our students can be performing in the village in which they live,” she said, adding that the festival “gives them a different avenue to perform in, not just the auditorium or the classroom but in front of a real audience.”

At Suffolk Lodge No. 60 on Main Street, the oldest Masonic lodge on Long Island, brothers treated guests to magic shows and a dance festival. Downstairs, they served freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate.

Chris Connolly, master of the lodge, said the lodge dates back to the late 18th century. He expressed delight at seeing this historic organization maintain an active community presence through Dickens.

“Being a part of the community is a big part of who we are and helping others,” Connolly said.

Jason Intardonato, senior deacon of Suffolk Lodge No. 60, discussed Dickens as a means of strengthening local connections and a time for selflessness.

“The Dickens Festival provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to interact with our neighbors here and with the community in Port Jefferson and to allow them into our space, entertain them for a while during the holidays, and give back,” he said.

Farther along Main, Jeffrey Sanzel’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Three is an active reminder of the historical background to the Dickens Festival.

The festival also provided a platform for some to communicate their message on a larger stage. For the second month in a row, protesters from the farmworkers union Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW gathered outside the Pindar wine shop in yet another call of action to negotiate a contract. The dispute is part of more than a year of negotiations between the union and Pindar Vineyards, the wine store’s parent company. 

John Durso, president of Local 338, joined the picketers on Main Street during the festival. “We knew that today was the Dickens Festival,” he said. “We knew that there would be a lot more people around, so we decided to … bring attention to the fact that these workers, like everybody else, are entitled to the same dignity and respect that all workers should have.”

Coordinating the annual festival is a monumental task for the village and the various stakeholders involved in its planning. Kevin Wood, the village’s director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head, thanked the sponsors who supported the festival and commented on the event’s success despite the inclement weather conditions.

“Because this has been [going on for] 26 years, people understand that this is one of the most unique events on Long Island, so they’re going to fight the rain to be here,” Wood said. “To support the production and the infrastructure, there are so many volunteers but there are also so many people staffing to make it work.”

Snaden concluded by offering how the Dickens Festival advances some of the village’s highest aims. She said the community uncovers its sense of place through an event such as this.

“It really goes to the sense of community that we all have,” she said. “All the work that goes into this festival and how everybody comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

File photo by Kyle Barr

Hear ye! Hear ye! Casting of “street characters” for the 26th annual Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival on Dec. 2, 3 and 4 will be held at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101 East Broadway, Port Jefferson on Thursday, Sept. 1 at 6:30 p.m. Actors, singers, prop people, dancers, puppet performers and sound people needed. All ages welcome. Costumes are provided and community service hours will be given to students. Rehearsals are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information, contact Karen Overin at 631-375-7451 or by email at [email protected].