It’s summer. And so, as I was casting around looking for words to feature, my daughter said, “Do something summery! Like, you know…a carnival, or the fair.”
When I’m writing this, our County Fair has just finished up, and the neighboring county’s is scheduled for a few weeks from now. But I have to confess, I’ve never researched the history of these traditional events.
I started, of course, by looking up the word. First of all, I discovered that fair, the adjective, and fair the noun aren’t related at all. The adjective dates back to the Old English fæger, meaning “pleasing to the sight, beautiful, morally good.” Similar words can be found in other Germanic languages.
The noun, however–“a regular meeting in a city or town for buying and selling”–is from the 1300s, Anglo-French, from the Old French feire or faire. I had no idea these were totally different words, from different languages!
Back in the day, a fair was much like a market. But centuries ago, big events (often city- or county-wide) began to be scheduled for once a year, where people didn’t just buy and sell, they came to see the latest innovations, enter their food and livestock into contests, and basically stay up-to-date with the rest of the world.
The earliest county fair in America is recorded in 1641, in New Amsterdam. By the 1800s, they could be found in just about every county. They were still primarily agricultural expos. This was where new farm equipment was demonstrated and new techniques discussed. But by this time, a bit of the carnival atmosphere had also come in. Games, contests, and competitions offered something for everyone.
I love that these events are still a part of our culture! I admit that my family mostly likes to go for the rides…and maybe the food, LOL. But I love that horse-pulling competitions have just morphed into mud-bogging and demolition derbies. That people still enter their livestock into competitions, and people still bring baked goods to pit against their neighbors’.
Do you go to your County or State Fair? If so, what’s your favorite part?
We have started going in the last few years to local, county and state fairs. We love photography and have been entering photos in the fairs which was tons of fun. We even won some ribbons and first place a couple times. It was fun to walk around, see the sights and people and eat some fair food as well.
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