There are few things Emma C. Attales Middle School eighth-graders look forward to as much as the school's annual Dickens Fest.

What began eight years ago as a modest celebration of Victorian English culture by the school's eighth-graders has become a large-scale event and a highlight of the academic calendar for students and community members alike.

Bobby Spicer, 14, said he had been eagerly anticipated participating in the event since he first heard about it as a fifth-grader.

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"I've been here since kindergarten, and I've known, when I was in fifth grade and every year, it's always eighth grade every year, so you want to keep going to eighth," Bobby said.

The Dickens Fest is the culmination of a weeks-long cross-curricular study of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and its Victorian English setting. Since the beginning of December, students have been immersed in Dickens' era from the opening bell through dismissal.

Language arts teacher Barbara Horner began the program and has overseen it each year. She said cross-curricular programs such as the Dickens unit are important because not only are they enjoyable, but they help students develop a nuanced understanding of an era.

"They love it, plus the other thing ... we've done is connect the curriculum so they understand what's going on in history," Horner said. "Social studies at the time period, the math aspect, art, everything, so it's a complete picture for them."

The Dec. 20 festival began in the school gym with the class separating into four groups to perform a Victorian group dance known as the Virginia reel. After each group performed, each student asked a parent or friend in the audience to be part of a large-scale performance involving the whole grade.

The girls wore dresses and the boy donned vests and high socks and rolled up their cuffs to get into character. While eighth-grader Gavin Liepe admitted wearing the costume was a bit awkward, it was still fun to get in the spirit of the time.

"It would be one thing if it were just me alone dancing out here in the Victorian stuff, but it's definitely a lot more comfortable," Gavin said.

Following the dance, the groups separated and moved on with their parents and friends to other stations, which included caroling, Victorian tea and snacks, period games and paper snowflake-making, which was an addition for this year.

Bobby said he was most looking forward to participating in the Victorian tea and sampling treats like scones and cookies.

"The food is a lot different from what we eat now; it's more spices in it and different kinds of food that you want to eat. That's going to be my favorite," Bobby said.

Parents and siblings filled the school during the event to watch the students demonstrate what they learned during the unit.

Natalie Bancheri watched her son, Luke, participate in games in the gym. While he was eliminated early in one game, an ancestor of musical chairs, he was champion in the laughing game, in which students try to make each other break straight faces without laughing themselves.

"I think it's a great festive thing to have at the Attales school," Natalie said. "It brings out a lot of Christmas spirit and joy for the holiday, and it makes it fun and exciting."

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