By Dani Burlison
Northern California may not hold the same magical holiday allure of, say, Christmas shopping in a snow-dusted Times Square or braving the cold to attend a wassail festival in Vermont, but the lack of Jack Frost nipping at the landscape does little to dampen the region’s holiday spirit—especially when it comes to the love of all things Victorian. From large traditional Victorian Christmas festivals in cities to entire communities that go all-out when offering season’s greetings, events in several Northern California hubs charm and delight as they relive a time of classic holiday joy. Consider bringing friends along with you—your 2014 Chevrolet Traverse seats up to eight people, boasts a class-leading 116.3 cubic feet* of maximum cargo room and is infinitely more comfortable and luxurious than a 19th-Century sleigh.
One such event is Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas festival. The entire community transforms into a Christmas wonderland, complete with charming window displays in every small business in the downtown district, twinkling lights, costumed characters and live music. “For more than three decades it has been the holiday tradition of families all over Northern California to escape the commercialism of crowded indoor shopping malls and come instead to festive Nevada City to celebrate the best the holiday season has to offer,” says Janet Cohen, an organizer with Victorian Christmas. “From jugglers to fine musicians, carolers to storytellers, we have something for everyone.”
The event runs every weekend in December until Christmas and draws nearly 4,000 attendees to this whimsical, crisp-aired California Gold Rush town.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party builds an entire London neighborhood, circa 1850, in San Francisco—and populates it with more than 750 costumed actors for visitors to interact with. The set includes opportunities for shopping, noshing and singing down at the rowdy London docks, as well as people-watching from quaint tea rooms. Stepping inside Dickens’ London will transform any Scrooge into a die-hard holiday-lover. This fair happens over five consecutive weekends, from late November through Christmas.
Another smaller yet no less magical season-themed experience is located a few hours’ drive north of San Francisco in the redwood-flanked coastal town of Ferndale. The Victorian Village transforms its already charming cluster of beautifully restored storefronts into cozy relics of Christmas past. With decorated trees and holiday lights galore lining the streets throughout the month of December, visitors can simply stroll through town in search of last-minute holiday gifts or enjoy one of the village’s many special events—from Christmas Brass Bands to the Annual Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade.
Northern California may not see an abundance of White Christmases, outside of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain areas, but what it lacks in seasonal powder it makes up for in outdoor strolls and the wonder and merriment of Victorian-era holiday fun.
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Dani Burlison is a wannabe anthropologist who lives, writes, teaches writing workshops and entertains her children in Northern California.
*Cargo and load capacity limited by weight and distribution.