During the second weekend of December every year — this year Dec. 12–13 — 50,000 holiday revelers descend on Franklin, Tenn., to have themselves, quite literally, one “Dickens of a Christmas.”
For 31 years, the city of nearly 69,000 residents has bristled with the trappings of Christmas past, including some 200 reenactors garbed in 19th century regalia.
Stroll the streets and you’re likely to encounter Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge or Tiny Tim Cratchit. And those British bobbies in vintage uniform? They are, in fact, on-duty members of the Franklin Police Department.
“It’s a huge hit with the citizens,” said Ryan Schuman, public affairs officer with Franklin’s police department. “They love the uniform and everyone wants to take get their pictures taken with them. The officers feel eight feet tall. They enjoy it as much as the citizens do. They’ve learned to swirl their batons and they really play the part.”
Sugar plums, roasted chestnuts and other savory old English fare (bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish-and-chips and Yorkshire toasties) are also sold by streetside vendors.
Strolling musicians warm the air with an auditory backdrop of Yuletide classics.
Rounding out the ambiance: horsedrawn carriage rides, dancers in period costumes, a holiday arts and crafts bazaar and candlelit town sings of Christmas carols on the public square.
The more than 150 shops, restaurants, historic homes and sites within the pedestrian-friendly historic district complement the Victorian architecture evident throughout the downtown area.
Last year the organizers brought in a snow machine to enhance the postcard-perfect scenery.
“We really want people to show up and just feel like they’re in the hustle and bustle environment of being over in old-timey England, having really that feel of being at a street festival where every corner turn you’re seeing something new and something exciting,” said Krista Dial, vice president of PR and media for the Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit organization that sponsors Dickens of a Christmas.
Renee Evans, the foundation’s event director, lauded the foundation’s longtime amicable interface with the city administration. “We apply for a street closure permit, which the city reviews and approves,” she said. “The city conducts safety inspections of all vendors and the fire marshal has the final authority” to prevent blockage of access ways and the like.
All food vendors are also subject to state health inspections.
After three decades of collaboration, “Everybody kind of knows what to expect,” said Evans.
“Putting on the festival is like putting together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle without having the box top to look at,” she said.
The Heritage Foundation pays for the police officers who work festival security.
Though the city does not finance the festival, it does donate the solid waste management, such as picking up and hauling trash. Several city personnel are on hand for the entirety of the weekend event.
Some merchants “absolutely love” Dickens of a Christmas; others “just wish it would go away,” according to Evans, who said, overall “it is a very, very popular event.”
Repeat attendees “start calling three to four months out, checking the dates and making hotel reservations,” she said.
The festival provides another boon for Franklin, according to Evans. “It brings out the best in everybody.”