Morgan Christopher Winter 2017
Each year during that month when the halls are being decked and sugar plums begin dancing in the heads of children of all ages, a magical transformation takes place in the town of Wellsboro along Route 6 in the heart of Tioga County. The heart of the business district, which throughout the year is a postcard-perfect example of small-town Americana, transforms and becomes a proper British marketplace complete with gaslights, vendor stalls, and boughs of green gracing the doorways. Musicians and costumed carolers stroll the streets, merchants clad in top hats and scarves sell their wares to eager shoppers, and it is not unusual to hear the phrase “God bless us, every one!” expressed by residents filled with the heartfelt spirit of the season. Each year on the first weekend of December, Wellsboro pulls out all the stops to celebrate the season with its “Dickens of a Christmas” celebration.
Set for Saturday, Dec. 3, this annual festival featuring more than 170 vendors draws visitors from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region looking to experience the holiday season in a small-town setting. At this popular event, characters from the classic story “A Christmas Carol” (as well as other holiday tales of the period) stroll the streets to entertain visitors as they create the theme of a Victorian holiday throughout the downtown business district.
During the “Dickens of a Christmas” festival and throughout the holiday season as well, local merchants offer shoppers a wide variety of gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to loved ones’ faces. As visitors stroll along Main Street, merchants welcome them with wide variety of locally produced products and gift ideas. There is nothing sweeter to discover in your stocking than the syrups of Patterson Maple Farms or the honey of Draper’s Super Bee Apiaries, which will be set up among the many street vendors participating along Main Street. Offering quilting supplies, home goods, clothing, accessories, and fine arts, downtown Wellsboro shopkeepers are fully stocked with great gift ideas for shoppers.
When you visit “Dickens of a Christmas” each year, you can expect to meet one merchant offering local products exemplifying the theme of good will toward men on a daily basis. Highland Chocolates is located on historic Route 6 as you enter Wellsboro from Mansfield and Route 15. Operated by Partners in Progress (a nonprofit committed to developing vocational and social activities for people with disabilities), Highland Chocolates employs five staff members working daily with 20 individuals with disabilities to create sweet snacks and fine chocolate gifts for all occasions. You can buy their product at the festival or take a shuttle to the store and experience for yourself this very special chocolate shop committed to doing good works.
Another unique merchant waiting to welcome visitors is Pop’s Culture Shoppe, an eclectic curiosity corner located across from the Wellsboro Diner. Do you remember Old Maid, comic books, and pick-up sticks? Pop’s offers classic toys and games for all ages, as well as strategy games, party games, puzzles, and popular modern games like Magic: The Gathering. For preschoolers, Pop’s Culture Shoppe has toys galore to stimulate imagination. Stop in and let the kid inside you explore!
During “Dickens of a Christmas,” food vendors and local restaurants like Timeless Destination, The Steak House, and Wellsboro Diner are open to tempt you with cider and hot chocolate, as well as homemade soups, chowders, and treats like bread pudding or fish ‘n’ chips that you might find in an authentic English pub. Fresh-roasted peanuts, cookies and kettle corn are served up by street vendors, filling the air with delicious aromas that make a stroll through the festival a gift to the senses!
The Penn Wells Hotel & Lodge is a historic downtown landmark and each year hosts a Victorian Tea as part of the festival. Rooms at this famous property usually sell out for the annual event, and the staff has a waiting list of visitors looking to book a stay over Dickens Weekend. (Fear not: Other local hotels, inns, and bed-and-breakfasts are waiting to welcome holiday travelers!) The Penn Wells Hotel serves as the setting for many of the festival events, so visitors may want to stop in to warm themselves with a glass of cheer and sit by the glow of the first-floor tavern fireplace.
Anyone attending “Dickens of a Christmas” will want to be sure to include holiday entertainment as part of their visit. The Dickens Players, a local performing arts group, sings carols and offers scheduled readings from Charles Dickens’ classic holiday work at various times and locations around downtown Wellsboro. Over the course of the weekend, this group and other performing arts groups, including local choruses, musicians and theater groups, offer seasonal entertainment guaranteed to warm the heart and share the spirit of the season. Hamilton-Gibson Productions not only stages the timeless classic “A Christmas Carol,” but on Friday night before the festival, the production company offers “A Dickens of a Concert,” featuring traditional and modern holiday favorites.
At day’s end, the Dickens celebration reflects the spiritual nature of the season. A candlelit Peace Walk in late afternoon culminates on the Wellsboro Green with caroling, a tree-lighting ceremony, treats for children, and a visit by Santa Claus.
While the annual “Dickens of a Christmas” event is scheduled for the first Saturday of December, the entire period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a great time to visit Tioga County to capture the holiday spirit. For those looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of mall shopping during the holiday season, local merchants in the region offer everything from fishing poles to fine art and from kayaks to quilts. Combined with a concert by the Mansfield University choir, a classic holiday movie at the Arcadia Theatre in Wellsboro or the Victoria Theatre in Blossburg, or a stroll along a scenic pine trail, a visit to Tioga County during the holiday season is guaranteed to charm any visitor – even Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge!