Seeking Unique Things to Do in Savannah during the Christmas Holidays?
Downtown Savannah, Georgia during the Christmas Holidays is a magical place. Guests often ask us what there is to do at this time of year other than the obvious: walking the streets of historic Savannah and Savannah's Christmas decorated squares. There are more "holiday" events and tours this year than in years past which is a good thing. Many have commercial overtones but still, the Christmas spirit is in the air in Savannah, Georgia nonetheless. But the most authentic, off-the-beaten track, unique things to do in Savannah during the Christmas Holidays are harder to find. One reason for this is the sheer volume of better funded, higher profile, advertised Christmas events in Savannah. Volume can obscure authenticity. That's just the reality of Savannah in 2016. Volume. But this is no ordinary Christmas event. There is a deep social component I address later in this article.
The Ghosts of Christmas in Savannah's Most Haunted Mansion
The Ghosts of Christmas in the Sorrel-Weed mansion is part A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, part Christmas music show, and part Victorian parlour storytelling. The show is performed in the readers theater style made famous by Dickens himself during his public dramatic readings of the story. The Ghosts of Christmas is also part violin, sung Christmas Carols, and part improvisational theater. I play/channel over eight different characters from A Christmas Carol but the main character in this production is not me or the characters -- its the setting -- The Sorrel-Weed mansion. The ghostly show is performed in the haunted 19th century library, drawing rooms, and foyer of the Sorrel-Weed. This is what brings a ghostly element to the show -- a play within the play. The lighting for the show is indirect and magically vintage. Chandeliers, candelabras, and gas lamps illuminate the haunted rooms, casting half light and gothic shadows. The acoustics of the mansion, a massive house designed for dramatic readings, performances, music, and dance provide an eerie chamber for the sound effects used in the show and a magical environment where ghosts abound.
"Social Entreprenurialship" to Benefit Tennesee Wildfire Victims
The Ghosts of Christmas is also a fundraiser for the Community Foundation in Gatlinburg, TN to benefit people who lost everything during the deadly wildfires that ravaged east Tennessee. This aspect of the production has already been picked up by major news media. In 2013, Phil Sellers of Old City Walks and I produced the Charles Dickens Savannah Christmas Walk which benefited Homelessness in Savannah, an organization founded by the late Marvin Heery. Marvin, a former Hewlitt-Packard executive, having made some unwise business dealings ended up falling through the net and became homeless. While homeless, Marvin had an epiphany at Christmas. He thought, "what if I can share my business experience to advocate for the homeless?" And what if, at the same time. I can teach small businesses to attach a social cause to their business. He coined a term for this -- "social entreprenurialship" -- and idea that the world does not require more non-profits. What it needs, Marvin believed, are more and more business owners who attach a charitable cause to their brand -- in order to create positive change -- through the private sector.
Living Wages and Unsafe Working Conditions at Christmas
In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge is led from greed to social giving by four ghosts. The results propel Scrooge into a greater awareness of his rightful place among humankind. Social issues affecting poverty rates run through A Christmas Carol and are easily overlooked. In the first scene Dickens introduces two main social ills that he wrote about for the rest of his life. Bob Cratchitt endures two hellish conditions which adversely affect him and his family. He is a devoted worker and works long hours which, of course he does not get paid overtime for. In fact, Bob does not even get a living wage to adequately feed his family or care for his crippled son, Tiny Tim. Another critical workplace issue, unsafe working conditions, debuts early in the story in the form of "a single lump of coal" that Scrooge restricts Bob to. Cratchitt literally freezes on the job. We can only imagine what his workplace is like in the summer and the over lack of ventilation.
The Ghosts of Christmas in the Sorrel-Weed and Social Giving
My first goal in adapting A Christmas Carol for the Sorrel-Weed mansion was to create a production called The Ghosts of Christmas. The challenge was to bring a stage show down to the intimate level of a parlour room drama, much like the Sorrel family might have shared with family and friends. But in the process of adapting the story the social issues engrained in the plot began to present themselves as key ingredients. I began to realize that the exact same social issues in A Christmas Carol are issues that currently challenge the city of Savannah, much as they did in 19th century London. Savannah is a city of extremes 2016 with side by side exploding commercial real estate development alongside a 28% poverty rate. Savannah hotels, restaurants, and bars, in particular, benefit the economic health of Savannah. However, the workers in those industries, all too often, like their Savannah ancestors before them, and like Bob Cratchit, receive below standard wages, inadequate or non-existent healthcare, and all too often work in unsafe working conditions. Kitchen workers in Savannah hotels, restaurants and bars, in particular, suffer most during Savannah's sweltering summers with inadequate ventilation in many places. Like Bob, many Savannah hospitality workers attempt to support families who suffer, like the Cratchitts, from poor health, inadequate food sources, and a host of health issues without the kind of healthcare afforded upper management, owners, and corporate hotel board members.
Is There a Win-Win for all of Savannah at Christmas?
One of the great challenges this time of year and throughout the year is for small businesses in Savannah to find a place at the table of the golden calf -- tourism. That table currently contains only enough seating for a handful of corporations, city employees, and select business owners. But this is the way the world works in 2016 and how many tourism cities operate. Like it or not. The challenge is not to "clean up city hall." The challenge is to convince these players that opening up the industry to give a fair shake to the rest of us is, in the end, of tremendous benefit -- not just for the entire Savannah community but also to their own long term objectives. You don't suppose that Scrooge lost market share when his heart opened to the rest of humanity just in time for Christmas. Do you? We can hope that this same spiritual experience somehow miraculously occurs in the hearts of current Savannah tourism leaders.
An Open Heart for Scrooge Just in Time for Christmas
Dickens provides the answer to this all important question of market share and postive social inclusion: "And to Tiny Tim, who did not die, Scrooge was a second father. He became as good a friend and as good a man as the good old city knew in the good old world." Do you think Scrooge's newly uncovered positive reputation hurt or helped his market share? You decide. But if you are looking for things to do in Savannah during the Christmas holidays, join me for the Ghosts of Christmas in The Sorrel-Weed mansion, an event that practices what the late Marvin Heery and Charles Dickens taught us about social giving.
Chase Anderson, Founder of Savannah Ghost Walks is a Savannah actor-musician, historian, storyteller and paranormal researcher with ancestral roots in downtown Savannah, Ga.