Galveston’s Dickens on Strand resumes after pandemic hiatus

Galveston town center was teeming with a mix of fiddlers, fake snow and suffragettes as hundreds walked around on Sunday, the last day of the Dickens on the Strand festival.

The three-day event transforms part of the city’s downtown into a Victorian landscape, with the sound of bagpipes and the clang of a mason echoing throughout the area.

Last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, meaning Gene Dietz, 62, had to forgo the annual top hat he takes out for the celebration.

Like others, he said on Sunday that he was happy the festival had returned and, with it, a little more sense of normalcy as the pandemic hopefully wears off.

The increase in foot traffic was also welcomed in the shops and restaurants surrounding the festival, many of which were lively on Sunday afternoons.

“There was definitely a good turnout,” said Amy Halsell, store manager on Strand.

Chad Illa-Petersen, 48, looks forward to the event every year. Sunday marked the end of his sixth year in which he dressed in a tattered military green overcoat and mittens with holes and begged passersby to change.

He and his family are using the event as a way to engage with them more theatrically, as well as to raise funds for families in need ahead of each holiday season.

He was just happy to be back, playing a beggar for a few days after a year of uncertainty and gloom.

This is, he said, the very essence of Christmas.

“It helps,” he said, gesturing to the crowd of people walking past him. “You could tell that everyone really needed it. “

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