Spirit of the holidays

GARRISON – This is the 20th year the Dickens Village Festival has been held here, and organizers are planning to make it the best yet.

McKaila Matteson, director of the Garrison Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Garrison takes its claim as the Christmas capital of North Dakota seriously and puts a lot of effort into transporting visitors back in time during the Dickens festival.

“Our entire community turns into a Victorian village. It’s a really big tradition for a lot of families and community members,” Matteson said. “It really brings our community and residents together.”

Held the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, as well as the following two Fridays and Saturdays, the Dickens Village Festival offers a wide variety of things for the entire family to see and do. Matteson said the main event each Friday and Saturday night is the “A Christmas Carol” play production at 7:30 p.m.

“This year it’s actually a musical rendition of ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Every year there’s a little different twist, and this year, it’s a musical theme,” Matteson said. “And it has a 50-member cast this year.”

She said people do need to get reserved tickets for the play, as they sell out quickly.

Perhaps the most famous part of the festival is the Queen Elizabus, a doubledecker English bus that gives several rides every day around the town and area. Matteson said the Elizabus always entices quite a few families to come down and take a ride.

English high tea, house tours and daily afternoon entertainment are just a few of the other things visitors have to look forward to. That’s not even taking into consideration all the food vendors who take to the streets between 4 and 6 p.m. every night to make the festival smell as good as it looks.

Matteson said the festival probably brings in around 1,000 people to Garrison each day, and they have already had two full houses for the evening play. She said the 20th year has kicked off with a bang, and she expects the following two weekends to follow suit.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of people here in town that are taking part in our festivities, so overall it’s been a great first weekend,” Matteson said. “And our next two weekends look to be just the same.”

Chad and Kim Gifford of Minot brought their three children to the festival for the very first time Saturday. Christian, 13, Camden, 11, and Keely, 8, arrived with their parents shortly after noon and spent the entire afternoon taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

The had English high tea and enjoyed not just the food and drink, but the entire ambiance.

“It was good tea and we had a whole experience,” Chad Gifford said. “I got to wear a top hat, and Keely got to wear a fancy, pink hat.”

They also watched Saturday’s afternoon entertainer, Grace Notes, perform, and that was only the beginning of their adventure.

“We checked out the arts and crafts, and we are currently on our way to the Elizabus,” Kim Gifford said.

At that point in the day, Christian and Keely both enjoyed watching Grace Notes perform the most, while Camden loved a handmade, wooden top he got from the English market.

Chad and Kim Gifford had talked about possibly going to the festival throughout the week, but finally made the decision to just do it Saturday morning.

“The weather was great, which helped a lot,” Chad Gifford said.

“It was something to do and got the kids out of the house after having the whole week off. And it wasn’t too far to come,” Kim Gifford added.

“A fun, family adventure,” Chad Gifford concluded.

While Kelsey Roehrich had been to the festival once before, this was her first time there as a vendor. Roehrich runs Lucy’s Designs out of Bismarck and made the trip to Garrison to get some of that small-town atmosphere.

“This is my second time here visiting, and it’s just kind of a good starting point, I feel,” Roehrich said. “A small town, you get a lot of business, you see a lot of faces, and it’s just a nice, warm, welcoming place. Everyone’s friendly.”

Roehrich’s booth had an eclectic mix of items, from dog toys and monogram letters to gift bags and holiday decorations.

“I like to dabble in everything so we have a few things for your dogs. We have mainly a lot of decor and gifts,” Roehrich said. “And then, of course, some goodies and treats.”

Roehrich appreciates the investment and dedication Garrison’s residents put into the festival and said she will definitely be back in the coming years.

“I think it’s a good experience,” Roehrich said. “Everyone’s friendly. You walk around, it’s just a small-town atmosphere.”

Kate Larson was just beginning to open up her baked potato food booth, which benefits the Titans American Legion baseball team. She said the food booth has been at the festival for all 20 years and was originally started by Pastor Dick Hendrickson of St. Paul Lutheran Church to benefit the baseball team.

“This has always been sold for Titans baseball. This is one of our fundraisers for baseball,” Larson said. “This booth has been here 20 years.”

Larson said John and Sandy Crawford then ran the booth for many years, and she’s simply doing her part by running it this year.

“We’ve just kind of tried to start helping Sandy and John out. They’ve got a huge commitment to baseball,” Larson said. “And now it’s my turn because my son Sam is playing.”

Larson said she enjoys seeing many of the same people and families come back to the festival year after year, which makes the whole experience extremely fun for her.

Alexander Ermer, 13, who is looking forward to playing for the Titans himself in the future, said he is still shocked and amazed at just how many out-of-state license plates he sees in Garrison this time of year, including from Florida and Alaska.

“I just love how we’re out in the middle of nowhere out in North Dakota and … it’s just amazing how people from all over the country come to Garrison for this one little thing,” Ermer said.