Father Christmas is among the highlights of the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace. (Cathy Bowman/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Dickens fair hosts Father Christmas and much more

Victorian England comes to life at Cow Palace in 20th anniversary festivities

For those who want to whisper secrets to the real Father Christmas, look no farther than the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.

Call it Miracle on Geneva Avenue, for children know one when they see one. There are large crowds to meet the legend with a real beard and a deep laugh.

Father Christmas, played by 80-year-old veteran actor Will Wood, is no dull-eyed department store phony, overfed and stuffed in a polyester suit.

Wood is a highlight of the fair, now in its 20th year at the Cow Palace every weekend until Christmas.

It’s a Bay Area tradition for many families, who love to stroll through twilight Victorian London with a sprinkle of snow on the ground and more than 1,000 lights adjusted to create a magical, unforgettable landscape.

Wood calls it a Christmas card come to life.

“You see the entire family dressed in costume,” he said. “People come with the spirit of true belief.”

Thousands of children have sat in Wood’s lap over the years, and their tender requests range from world peace to help for an ailing grandmother. Now and then there is a surprise, like the 5-year-old who asked for a Lamborghini.

Father Christmas is one of more than 800 characters strolling about. Queen Victoria, accompanied by Prince Albert, also mingles with visitors.

She loves it dearly. After all, this is London without bad weather or Brexit.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” said the queen when asked about the 21st century controversy. “I leave all the politics to my ministers.”

It’s a full British experience on the 3.5 acre site. Visitors may catch a show, sample tasty treats like bangers and mash, learn to fence or play Boot the Cat. At Mr. Fezziwig’s Dance Party, they can practice waltzes, jigs and polkas with patient actors who know the steps.

As afternoon turns into evening, there’s the popular adults only show, the Saucy French Postcard Tableaux Revue.

Costumes, says fair executive director Kevin Patterson, are “admired but not required.”

“It’s both an experience and a visual feast,” Patterson says. “We want people to feel that they’re in the story. We work very hard to make sure people are swept away with the feeling and aesthetic.”

Patterson, whose parents Ron and Phyllis created the fair, remembers the awe he felt as a child getting lost where it’s always Christmas Eve.

There is so much to look at — from sailors with eye patches to chimney sweeps with rotting teeth — fairgoers forget about their phones.

Scrooge never used one, so why should you?

IF YOU GO

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party

Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City

When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday-Sundays (plus Friday, Nov. 29) through Dec. 22

Tickets: $10 to $32; $12 parking

Contact: www.dickensfair.com

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