By Atiba Rogers
Memories from the Victorian era flooded the streets of Port Jefferson Village on Dec. 6-8 for the 18th annual Dickens Festival. In the three day celebration, crowds gathered around to watch performances and concerts based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Red telephone boxes, horse-drawn carriages, soot-covered chimney sweeps and town criers helped set the scene. They show what it was like to experience Christmas in the 19th century London. There were people dressed up as the “have” and “have-nots,” displaying the great divide between the rich and poor.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Ebenezer Scrooge, a Victorian miser, was visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. The experience caused him to have an epiphany, whereas he took it upon himself to reevaluate his life.
“Bah! Humbug,” is what Scrooge used to say before he found his desire to celebrate life and revive Christmas instead of being miserable.
Poverty ran amok through the streets of London in the Victorian era as the poor demonstrators from the North Country Peace Group at the festival.
“We’re trying to reflect the real intentions of Charles Dickens in a lot of his writings,” said Bruce Harry of Setauket.
Harry has been demonstrating since 2003.
“Standing out for people who are oppressed, underpaid, underprivileged, the control of corporate entities over common people,” he said.
Standing beside each other, they formed a pact on the sidewalk and chanted throughout the day.
“We are saying that there’s poverty here now and that we need to have a living wage, not a minimum wage,” said Charlotte Koons, a devoted demonstrator who traveled all the way from Northport.
They added to the drama of the festival by interrupting performances with their demonstrating.
“Can you imagine cutting food stamps back during the worst recession since the great depression,” asked Koons. “We’ll all end up stealing food because SNAP has been cut back,” she said.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows families who meet the federal income rules to get SNAP benefits, giving them the opportunity to buy nutritious food.
But these present day issues don’t stop villagers from enjoying the festivities.
“We’re celebrating Christmas, of course and the life of Charles Dickens,” said Sheryl Freed of Stony Brook.
She dressed up as Lady Evelyn who’s married to the town’s banker, Ben Evolent, played by Michael Freed. The fictional couple are also husband and wife in real life, but this year, they celebrated their one-year anniversary of their characters after performing with the festival for the past four years together.
Plenty of good deeds were exhibited throughout the day — something even Scrooge would approve of.
“We have the command center going on in our fellowship hall where the characters come, and they can rest and get something to eat and relax,” said third year participant, Karen Christ, the horse and carriage coordinator from Island Christian Church.
Members from the church help with some of the events, which include giving the characters an opportunity to take a break and get a little warmed up before they go back on stage.
It’s the season for giving and Port Jefferson Village makes it memorable by putting on a show for villagers and people from other towns to visit.
“It’s just festive. It brings Christmas back, and it’s just sweet,” Esther Quaglil, a member of the Island Christian Church said.
All of the events were produced by the Greater Port Jefferson and Northern Brookhaven Arts Council.
“We just see all the people looking around for each other, caring for each other, just reminiscent of what it used to be like way back when,” said Christ. “I miss that.”