Bracebridge Dinners: Christmas at Yosemite

Squire Bracebridge and a Minstrel
Squire Bracebridge and a Minstrel. Photo by Lani Spicer, Andrea Fulton Productions

Heraldic horns call the guests to enter the grand hall. Your host Lord Neville Bracebridge invites you to enjoy "food and riches without measure." The jester makes jokes — and sings silly songs. You feast on peacock pie, baron of beef (whatever that is), and plunge into plum pudding before ending the evening with a toast to bid your host goodbye.

You don’t need a time machine to experience that: Just a ticket to Yosemite's Bracebridge Dinners.

The Bracebridge Dinners appeal to anyone who loves traditional Christmas celebrations. For some, it's the treat of a lifetime.

Bracebridge Dinner Basics

Yosemite's Bracebridge Dinners are a tradition as old as the Ahwahnee Hotel, which opened in 1927. Ansel Adams created the format and script in 1927. It is much the same today, although the performers continually make small changes and improvements.

The festivities are based on a story from Washington Irving's The Sketch Book. It describes Christmas Day, 1718, at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England. 

The 100-member cast of the Bracebridge may outnumber even Lord Bracebridge's extensive staff. One minute they move diners to tears with an a capella rendition of "O Holy Night." Then they have guests howling with laughter at the antics of court jester The Lord of Misrule.

The word "dinner" is far too ordinary to describe the Bracebridge meal. Squire Bracebridge's seven-course feast inspires the Ahwahnee chef to create modern versions of the courses Irving describes: relish, soup, fish, salad, peacock pie, boar's head and baron of beef, plum pudding and wassail (hot mulled wine), and bite-sized desserts called mignardises.

The performers are as impressive as the meal, with many of them appearing every year for decades. Still, the most impressive is Andrea Fulton, who celebrated her 69th Bracebridge performance in 2019.

The Bracebridge Dinners are held in the dining room of the Ahwahnee Hotel, with several performances between the middle and end of December. The Bracebridge Dinner website lists this year's dates

The meal lasts four hours, with a half-hour of entertainment beforehand in the Ahwahnee's Great Hall. Attendance is limited to about 300 people per performance. That might sound like too many people, but In the spacious Ahwahnee dining room, it's enough to make it seem festive but not overcrowded.

Tips for Enjoying the Bracebridge Dinner

Tickets for The Bracebridge Dinner run hundreds of dollars per person. Even so, it's well worth it if you can afford it, providing good value for money even at its high price.

  • Some people dress up in evening gowns and tuxedos. At the very least, you should wear cocktail party attire or get as dressed up as your wardrobe budget allows. Also, keep in mind that no costumes are allowed.
  • You must get your table assignment after you arrive in Yosemite. Dinner tickets do not include wine, but you can also order it when you check in.
  • A portrait photographer is on hand before dinner, taking photos for a fee. A line for the photo sessions forms quickly, and they cut off when dinner starts, making it essential to get in line as early as you can.
  • Arrive in the Great Hall early to enjoy the Christmas caroling, but don't hang around when the line forms for dinner. Tables are assigned, but seats at them are not. The last people seated have to crane their necks to see the stage. Don't let that be you.
  • Take all the pictures you like before entering the dining hall, but Squire Bracebridge asks his guests to refrain from photography during the meal.
  • Children under age three are not allowed, and babysitting services are not available. The dinner is not recommended for children under ten years old and is too long for active kids of any age who can't sit still for four hours.
  • Because the dinner ends late, plan to spend at least one night at a Yosemite area hotel
  • You can check all your lodging options, but the best place to stay is at the Ahwahnee Hotel, where you can walk to your room afterward. Buses will also take you to the event from the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and the Wawona Hotel.

Bracebridge Dinner Tickets and Reservations

Years ago, tickets to the Bracebridge Dinner were almost impossible to acquire. Now, supply meets the demand. To avoid disappointment, reserve weekends and that last performance before Christmas as soon as you can after they go on sale in late March or early April. If your dates are flexible, you may be able to get tickets a week or two ahead of time.

The Travel Yosemite website has information about how to buy your tickets, along with packages that include lodging and other extras.

If you like the Bracebridge Dinners (or the idea of them ), you may also enjoy a less expensive Christmas diversion, the Dickens Fair in San Francisco.

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