Experience the Bracebridge Dinner in Yosemite
Travel back in time to experience a traditional English Christmas.
On select December nights, about 300 exquisitely dressed people are welcomed to a multi-course, candlelit feast in the snowy Yosemite Valley. Here, 40 professional performers from San Francisco and Los Angeles recreate a decades-old tradition that is high in demand.
If you’ve never heard of a Bracebridge Dinner, you’re not alone. This well-kept secret occurs only in December, and only at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel in Yosemite. The three-hour event, set during an 18th-century English feast, is best described as over-the-top Christmas dinner theater.
It started in 1927 as a way to promote the property, then called the Ahwahnee Hotel. The show’s inspiration came from “The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall,” a short story by none other than Washington Irving. (Ironically, he’s best known today for his Halloween tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”)
The original story painted a vivid picture of a traditional Christmas in rural 18th-century England. In turn, the tantalizing descriptions of such an elaborate feast inspired Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” While the Bracebridge tale has since taken a backseat to the latter, a version of the dinner did pop up in an episode of Gilmore Girls.
In keeping with the who’s who of notables surrounding the dinner, one of Bracebridge’s long-running directors was none other than Ansel Adams, the preeminent landscape photographer best known for his black and white photos of the American West, especially Yosemite. Adams appeared in the first two seasons of Bracebridge before taking over in 1929. In fact, his reworked framework of the show is still more or less performed today.
Today’s director and producer, Andrea Fulton, stepped into the role in 1979. She debuted as an extra at the age of five, and now plays one of the main roles and conducts the chorus. If that wasn’t enough, Fulton also fleshed out the script and added new characters and a lot more humor.
“It was a very somber pageant before, and now it’s a full book show,” she says. Her version debuted in 2000, and it's now up to seven shows.
Those who score tickets also get to experience a seven-course feast that recreates the Christmas dinner at Bracebridge Hall. A scene introduces each traditional course, including mulligatawny soup, peacock pie (made with duck), beef tenderloin and plum pudding.
All of this comes at a premium, as tickets for dinner alone start at $380 for adults ($427 if you choose the photo portrait option). Wine is separate. Children’s tickets start at $236, although kids under three aren’t allowed, and those under 10 aren’t encouraged.
There’s also a dinner and lodging option, where guests can choose between The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (pictured) or Yosemite Valley Lodge. Either way, attendees are expected to adhere to the strict dress code, which requires, at a minimum, a dark suit for men and cocktail dress for women. Since this is an extra special occasion, tuxedos and formal gowns are encouraged.
“It’s known for its quality. It’s not just little theater,” says Fulton. “It’s big, solid, gorgeous, voluptuous theater. I think that separates us from the average production.”
If you can't get tickets for a performance this December, ticket sales for 2018 performances will open in December 2017.