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A Christmas tradition for 29 years

A Tavern Wench from Liberty Tree Tavern serves up a plate of olde tyme faire.  Submitted
Every second weekend in December downtown Franklin is transformed into a Victorian era storybook land with Dickens of a Christmas.
 
The best anyone involved can remember, Franklin’s first Dickens of a Christmas was held in 1984 and has grown to be ranked as one of the top 20 festivals in the South by the Southeast Tourism Society.
 
The idea for the winter festival came about when Rudy Jordan saw a similar event in Galveston, Texas called Downtown Dickens, which, according to Jordan, transformed the town.
 
“We had just formed the Downtown Franklin Association and the revitalization program for Main Street,” said Nancy Williams, DFA director. “It wasn’t in the condition it is now. It was before Streetscape.” 
 
Before the DFA ran with the idea, Jordan contacted Peter Brink in Galveston and got permission to “piggy back” on their idea. 
 
“The idea was unique at that time, and now places borrow from ours,” Williams said. 
Once DFA received permission to piggy-back the Galveston event, plans were in motion and one of the first was to request the Franklin Police officers patroling the event to dress as Bobbies, Jordan said adding DFA provided the uniforms.
 
David Carter, also the Scarecrow at Halloween and the Leprechaun at Brew Fest, started out the first years at Dickens selling roasted chestnuts, but soon after he debuted as a character.
 
“He’s been Marley and the Christmas Past Ghost,” Jordan said.
 
According to Williams, it takes more than 100 volunteers to make the event happen. They start at 5 a.m. Saturday preparing batches of hot chocolate and hot cider to sell in the Heritage Foundation tent. 
 
Volunteers prepare, roast and sell the chestnuts and plum pudding and help with the carriage ride.
 
“We want to help them make their memories,” Williams said.
 
Janet Tharpe heads up the volunteer green room – a place volunteers can go to warm up and take a break.
 
Jean Hill and her troupe of dancers from Flat Creek bring about 80 people in costume to perform the Victorian era dances and reenact period stories. 
 
Add the characters and entertainers and that could add up to another 200 volunteers. Volunteers truly are the backbone of the event.
 
“[Dickens] was all very well received from the beginning,” Jordan said. “Hundreds turned out, then it grew to be thousands and now it’s a top Southern festival. It fits so well with downtown and the architecture.” 
 
During the first couple of years retail shops hosted living windows where wool making, weaving on a loom and flute playing were demonstrated, Jordan said. 
 
The horse drawn carriage was one of the first festival highlights and continues to be a big draw.
 
“We decided to have lots of music during the event and then end it [on Sunday] with the public joining us as we sing and walk with candles to The Square,” Jordan said. 
 
There are many reasons Dickens of a Christmas continues to be successful.
 
“I think it’s all about Christmas, family and coming together to celebrate the time of year,” Jordan said. “And it gets people into the shops to see what a special downtown we have.”
 

Posted on: 12/13/2013

 
 

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