Charles Dickens’ great-great-great-granddaughter on why Texans do the author best at Christmas

Lucinda (fourth from right) returned to the festival for the 13th time in 2023
Lucinda (fourth from right) returned to the festival for the 13th time in 2023. Photo ©  Lucinda Hawksley

What’s the first location that springs to mind when thinking of setting up a Charles Dickens festival? It’s unlikely to be a Texan island. But in 1973, Galveston Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, began a small festival dedicated to the English author.

During the 19th century, Galveston, Texas, was the US’s second busiest immigration port, second only to Ellis Island. It was also the haven of wealthy Houstonites, who joined local settlers in building ever more elaborate and beautiful homes. This thriving society was devastated by the Great Storm of 1900, which killed at least 8,000 Galvestonians and battered the grand Victorian buildings. It took decades for the island to recover and, by the early 1970s, many of the properties had still not been renovated. The Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF), founded in the mid-19th century, decided that something needed to be done to preserve the buildings. That’s how Dickens on The Strand was born – named after one of the island’s streets.

The idea formed after a member of the GHF, Evangeline Wharton, attended a Christmas Carol festival in California. Its painted backdrops of Victorian street scenes made her realise that Galveston had a ready-made – and real – Victorian landscape to be used. She set up a simple event, just for members of GHF, entitled a “Dickens Evening on the Strand”. Out of this one evening has grown one of the world’s biggest Dickens festivals, which now takes place over the first weekend in December, beginning with a champagne reception on Thursday night and ending with a Victorian bed race on Sunday afternoon. Every year, over 30,000 people arrive to take part in the festivities; over the decades, the Victorian costumes worn by many attendees have become more elaborate and more professional, as costumiers from all over the country (and often further afield) arrive to show off their talent. […]

First published in The Independent on 16th December 2023. Read full article online.