ANTIOCH – The Dickens era has come alive in downtown Antioch to enthrall visitors during the holiday season.
The unique display might only be a seasonal attraction, but creating it takes a year-round effort by numerous volunteers.
Located inside Kringle’s Christmas Village at 510 Orchard St. in downtown Antioch, the Dickens Holiday Village features 57 life-like Dickens characters representing 24 scenes of life during the 1850s. It will remain open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through New Year’s Day.
Each character exhibit contains a plaque describing the scene and the storylines depicted in many of Charles Dickens’ famous books, including “A Christmas Carol” and “Oliver Twist.” The scenes feature characters such as Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, carolers, Marley’s Ghost, a lamp lighter, an apple peddler, a shoe shine boy and more.
The characters were designed and built by a “Mannequin Committee,” with detailed heads for each character created by members of an “Art Committee.”
“It’s very unique because these are all handcrafted,” said Barbara Porch, who coordinates the display as executive director of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce. “You know how they say it takes a village to pull off something. Well, when we started this, it certainly took a village.”
The Dickens Holiday Village grew out of a 2012 suggestion from downtown merchant Charlie Lyngaas, who had seen a Dickens program in another state.
“I thought it’d be a good thing for Antioch to attract more visitors during the holidays,” he said.
With the help of dozens of volunteers, the Dickens Holiday Village began in 2014 with about 14 characters. Formerly featured outside in downtown Antioch, the exhibit recently was moved indoors inside the Kringle’s Christmas Village.
“I’m happy that the interest has not waned and people still like to look at the figures we handmade,” Lyngaas said. “We did have them all out on the streets, which was nice, but I like the fact that they’re all in one place and people can see that and other holiday items. It’s become a holiday gathering place.”
Through the years, the display has grown, with characters refurbished and new pieces created annually. Along with mannequin and art committees, volunteers serve on storyline, apparel, promotion and snow removal committees.
They create, tweak and finalize, Porch said, to create both the “pretty” and “not so pretty” side of Dickens. And “Dickens Guardian Angels” keep an eye out for possible vandalism.
“Each year, we try to add to the collection,” Porch said.
Depending on the extent of additions and renovations every year, she said, work for next year’s display begins soon after the holiday season ends.
Open to anyone who would like to stop by, the display also draws group tours and luncheons available with advance registration through the Antioch Chamber at 847-395-2233. Fans come from throughout the Midwest, not only to see the Dickens Holiday Village, but to take in Antioch’s downtown shops and eateries and the village’s other seasonal attractions.
“Antioch is authentic,” Porch said. “We are the real deal. Our downtown is over 100 years old with the original buildings, and Dickens was something that was very authentic during its time, too.”
Along with the Dickens Holiday Village, the Kringle’s Christmas Village will remain open through Jan. 1.
From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily at 510 Orchard St., visitors can browse through dozens of oversized shadowboxes filled with quaint holiday scenes. Porch compared it to looking at holiday displays in big city windows.
Admission to both the Dickens and Kringle villages is free courtesy of the grand sponsorship of Raymond Chevrolet-Kia.
Antioch also is hosting a Christmas Musical Light Show daily from 6 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 25 at the Antioch Bandshell on Skidmore Drive. The 20-minute shows run continuously and can be enjoyed from vehicles.