I am a Hackney refugee living on the Thames Estuary, for the moment. You can read my blog at www.makemeadiva.wordpress.com
If you are anywhere near Rochester in Kent on the weekend of the 1st & 2nd of December, the Dickens Festival is a must-see event. It appeals equally to young and old (and all of us in the middle) and it would get even the most Scrooge-like friends and family into the mood for Christmas!
Carols by the Cathedral
So what is it? It's a series of parades and performances along the picturesque Rochester High Street with people dressed in fantastic Victorian costumes. Look out for chimney sweeps, marching pipers, musicians, Punch & Judy and Queen Victoria; not forgetting all those timeless Charles Dickens' characters including Fagin, Miss Havisham, Bill Sykes and Scrooge. There's also lots of unusual shops and stalls for Christmas shopping and you can warm up with mulled wine, hot chocolate and mince pies.
The event has a full programme on both days, the highlights of which are surely the Candelit Parade that starts at 4.45 p.m. and finishes in the shadow of spectacular Rochester Cathedral for the Carol Singing Service at 5 p.m. under a guaranteed fall of seasonal snow.
Miss Havisham, on stilts
There's also street entertainment on both days and a Farmers' Market and apart from parking costs the festival is absolutely FREE. I took my family last year for the first time and we loved it. My children are 8 and 10 and they were so bowled over that they have begged to return this year - in full costume! Anyone can join in by dressing up as a Victorian and a lot of people go to a lot of trouble with their costumes to make a great show. 2012 is the bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth so what better way to celebrate than come to Rochester and join in with the festivities.
For more information on getting there and a full programme listing visit the organiser's website here. This is an absolutely unmissable event, even for those of us that don't like Christmas. Bah humbug! Seriously though, it's an unique spectacle for all visitors and well worth going along to.