With no rain in the forecast, Narberth businesses and residents are gearing up for Saturday, Dec. 11th, and what has quickly become the second biggest day of visitors all year, after the 4th of July, when fireworks draw people from all over the region to the small borough.
It’s the fourth annual Narberth Dickens Festival, which has grown from modest beginnings to an event with hundreds of scavenging kids and thousands of adults, many of them supervising with a hot toddy in hand.
“People love Narberth and Narberth events,” said Ed Ridgway, a member of the Narberth Business Association and an independent marketing consultant. “This little town of 4,000 attracts more than 12,000 people to the fireworks every year. So I knew if we put some promotion behind the Dickens Festival, and got the word out regionally, we could really grow the crowd.”
The festival runs from noon to 4 p.m. in and around the main drag of Haverford Avenue, including side streets, with children hunting for characters from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” might be found. The scavenger hunt is all about finding the live performers, dressed and made up to become Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim and the rest. Find ’em all, get a prize – a black top hat and other surprises.
“We’re going to have Mrs. Cratchit in here, so that’s going to be good,” said Lou Mancini, manager of the Mapes 5&10 store in the heart of Haverford Avenue. Taking time out from stocking some merchandise, Mancini said the front windows got a special dressing up from the owner and her family. “I’m expecting a good crowd. We’re looking forward to it.”
Indicative of the expanding nature of the festival are two large additions to the day – one of them a live performance and the other a film. The Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet, on Narberth Avenue, will become a “Dickens Theater,” with the Academy performing dance excerpts from “The Nutcracker.” There will also be periodic Punch-and-Judy puppet shows from a local children’s theater troupe.
Down the street, at 11 a.m., the Narberth movie theater will open its doors for a free screening of the 1992 film “The Muppet Christmas Carol.”
Traffic is not stopped along the main thoroughfare for the festival, and last year, vehicles were backed up considerably for a couple hours as borough police manned the intersections of Haverford and Narberth avenues, and along streets on the western end of downtown. Horse-and-carriage rides add to the mix.
Officials are encouraging visitors from Philadelphia or other Main Line towns to hop on the SEPTA regional rail train, which has a stop in Narberth. They are also urging drivers to take advantage of SEPTA’s eastbound parking lot, located on the south side of the station and away from the main hub of activity. More parking can be found at the lot adjacent to St. Margaret’s elementary school, a block north of the post office on Narberth Avenue – you can pick up a Christmas tree while you’re there, too, to benefit the Boy Scouts.
There were more than 2,000 people at the 2009 Dickens Festival, and organizers are expecting even more this year. Some 800 prizes have been ordered for the scavenger hunt after all 700 from last year were claimed.
Other crafts and amusements going on will be candle-making, free Victorian era tattoos (temporary, of course), face-painting, Victorian carolers and roaming musicians, a very good (judging from 2009) ice sculptor, and a gypsy fortuneteller.
With other downtown events with broad kid-based activities, “we’ve found that there’s a higher ratio of adults to kids,” noted Ridgway. “At the Leprechaun Hunt on St. Patrick’s Day, for example, either Mom or Dad will bring the kids into Narberth, but usually not both. The Dickens Fest brings the whole family, both Mom and Dad, and often grandparents and other out-of-town guests.”
Those hot toddies will be served up in three distinct varieties from pubs The Greeks, McShea’s and the Great American Pub. New glasses are $10, while new special tin cups with a logo go for $5 (for refillable coffee and hot chocolate, along with discounted soups from different establishments).
More information is at www.narberthonline.com.