Texas Travel

Experience a Victorian Texas Christmas at Dickens on the Strand

By Patrick Reardon 12.2.19

The coastal city of Galveston has been a bustling harbor for immigrants, merchants, and even pirates since 1839 — but for the past 45 years, it’s been bustling for a different, more peculiar reason.

Along the shoreline is a five-block district called The Strand. It’s furnished with authentic Victorian-era architecture, vibrant window shops bursting with character, and square-rigged sea vessels that have towered over its docks since the 19th century. The Strand evokes the culture of a bygone age year-round, but if you visit at the right time of year, you may feel that you’ve literally stepped back in time: bonneted women in Victorian hoopskirts, men sporting top hats and coattails, and bearded buccaneers roam the cobblestone streets.

You may not believe your eyes, but you aren’t seeing ghosts — they’re Texans celebrating a curious holiday festival: Dickens on the Strand. Here’s a guide to this unique event and how you can join in the fun this year.

Galveston Historical Foundation, Illumine Photographic Services

Origin Story

In the 1970s, The Strand’s Victorian architecture was under threat of demolition. To protect their precious historical district, the Galveston Historical Foundation banded together to raise awareness of The Strand’s cultural significance. In 1974, the group sponsored the first annual Dickens Evening on the Strand, hoping to gain traction for the cause.

The movement to “preserve, revitalize, and celebrate the architectural, cultural, and maritime heritage of Galveston Island” easily garnered support, and it wasn’t long before the district was officially named a National Historic Landmark.

Galveston Historical Foundation, Illumine Photographic Services

Holiday Festivities

Since then, the annual December tradition has been known as Dickens on the Strand, named in honor of Victorian-era writer Charles Dickens and his famous work A Christmas Carol.

Each December, thousands of visitors from across Texas travel to the seaside city to take part in the festivities. Attendees dress in conventional garments not only to receive half-price admission to the event but to blend in with the Victorian and nautical culture of The Strand — and in hopes of winning the coveted prize in the costume contest.

Dickens on the Strand festival in Galveston Tx
Galveston Historical Foundation, Illumine Photographic Services

Join in the Spirit

Dressing for the occasion is only the beginning of Dickens on the Strand. As it sets its sails, guests are invited to board the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA to share tea and cookies with the captain’s wife — and if that’s not your cup of tea, there’s plenty of holiday revelry at Fezziwig’s Beer Hall. Before Pickwick’s Lanternlight Parade on Saturday night, stop by the wharf for appetizers, classic holiday carols, and to witness firsthand the traditional firing of the Tall Ship ELISSA’s cannons.

This year’s 45th Dickens on the Strand takes place December 6–8. Plan your trip to Galveston with help from this guide.

© 2019 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance