A South Jersey town has been transformed into a Charles Dickens winter wonderland

Bright lights, trolley tours, and wonderland Christmas displays abound in Cape May.

A trolley goes by Victorian homes lit up with lights

A holiday lights trolley tour in Cape May, New Jersey. (Cape May MAC/Facebook)

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On this final weekend before Christmas, one South Jersey town is celebrating the holiday season in a festive, brightly lit, and old-fashioned way.

Doreen Talley, the executive director of the Greater Cape May Chamber of Commerce, said her community looks like something out of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol,” with garlands of fragrant greens and twinkling gaslights wherever you look.

“With our Victorian homes, a lot of them are decorated,” she said. “We have a contest each year called Light Up Cape May, so there’s prizes awarded, and some bragging rights.”

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She said all of the city parks are specially decorated, and on Saturday visitors can enjoy the All that Glitters Trolley tour, which includes then and now stories of the many shops, hotels, landmarks, and personalities that dotted the Cape Island social landscape during the Victorian age. Visitors can also board a musical Santa Trolley ride, led by none other than Mrs. Claus, who has come to Cape May directly from the North Pole.

Talley noted some establishments are running Christmas movies and offering hot chocolate this weekend, On Christmas Eve the Carriage House Visitors Center and the Lighthouse are open, the Carroll Gallery has an old-fashioned Christmas exhibit, and caroling groups are performing at different houses of worship.

“The shops are open, the Winter Wonderland on the grounds of Congress Hall is open, there’s train and carousel rides happening, and they have a little vendor village with crafts,” she said.

Chantelle Semanchik, one of the owners of Cape May Carriage, said tours of the downtown area are a great way to enjoy the spirit of the holidays.

“The drivers zigzag through the streets by a horse-drawn carriage, which is actually historically accurate for the time when the town was originally built, so it’s kind of a unique way to experience the town in a very traditional way,” she said.

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The town of Cape May was established in 1611.

During the carriage tours, drivers will give the history of different homes and landmarks and the Victorian era itself.

“We show you the Christmas lights at this time of year,” she said, “we scope that out in advance where the most heavily lit areas are.”

Talley said the trolley tours around town during the holiday season all benefit Cape May MAC, a non-profit museums, arts, and culture group.

She noted at this time of year, everyone puts on their “Christmas best,” and sightseeing is made easier by the fact that Cape May is a walking town.

“Even if you come, parked your car, and just wanted to take in the sights and the sounds, you can do that, you can walk along the promenade [by the sea],”

Semanchik said some families have made a visit to Cape May a holiday tradition.

“We have families that we’ve been taking on tours for a long time, to the point where now their kids are taking their kids, so there’s multiple generations that have been doing this,” she said.

“We really enjoy it, it’s a great experience.”

Editor’s note: Cape May MAC is a supporter of WHYY.

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