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5 reasons to attend a Renaissance fair
Examining the best reasons to go medieval this fall
If the very idea of going to a Renaissance fair makes you uneasy, read on. For those of you who have never considered going, or have been hesitant to go to a Renaissance fair, this is for you.
I’ll be the first to admit that the practice of dressing up and going medieval might sound absurd, but if done right, it can be some of the most fun you’ll ever have. So my lords and ladies, strap on your breeches and tighten your girdles—here are our top five reasons to visit a Renaissance fair.
1. The fun. Don’t let mainstream media fool you. Renaissance fairs aren’t just for geeks who were picked on in high school. If you find the right one, a Ren fair will be like a college party, wrapped in a magic show, sprinkled with festival food. In fact, a great many of the fairs you’ll encounter these days are like clubs for people who enjoy a great deal of the historical aspects of medieval society.
What you want to avoid as a first-timer are events like those the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) might host. These are events where people pride themselves on their ability to live (in deep character) as they might have in the mid-1600s. These events can be a blast, but they aren’t for the casual fairgoer. You want to find a community fair first, and then go from there.
Viewfinder Tip: If you really want to get into the action, dress up a little. You don’t have to, but it can help make you feel more at ease when you arrive.
A lot of the fairs out there are casual get-togethers with very normal people who have a passion for hand forging bodkin arrows when they aren’t working as a CPA. For example, the first fair I took Tawny to offered archery. Not just normal target archery, but you got to shoot padded arrows at the very reluctant-looking volunteers downrange. Needless to say, the fun was on point. For a larger affair, one of the biggest and best Renaissance fairs in the nation is the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.
2. The food. If you enjoy eating turkey legs at the country fair or baby back ribs during the holidays, then you have to go to aRenaissance fair. If you haven’t tasted a traditional honey spice recipe for mutton, then you haven’t lived. With the popularity of home brew these days, too, you are likely to encounter a wide variety of homemade hard ciders and meads (wine made from fermented honey).
Most Renaissance fairs are also catered with food trucks for those who just want to dip a toe into adventure. Go on an empty stomach and really get into the theme. A lot of places will encourage you to eat everything with your fingers instead of using silverware. The more you commit, the more fun you’ll have. The better festivals for food are the California City Renaissance Festival and the Northern California Renaissance Faire, both coming up this fall.
3. The entertainment. Almost all Renaissance fairs will have a broad spectrum of things to do and see. Hatchet-throwing, fire-eating, and even jousting aren’t uncommon. Usually several men (and women) in full armor will ride full force at one another with long wooden lances. The lances are up to safety code and designed to break without doing too much damage to the riders, but it is still an amazing thing to watch.
A Renaissance fair can really make you feel alive. There are usually a few musicians strewn around the field, with canvas tents billowing in the breeze, and the whinny of horses in the background. The music is almost always really good, too. Imagine a folk-music festival with a beer garden and a circus mixed in. Some will even have an impressive display of siege equipment on hand. Two years ago, I went to a fair that had a true-to-life trebuchet (a type of advanced catapult) that could launch a pumpkin over 200 yards. There’s all of this, plus a huge variety of plays, comedy shows, and other fun stops.
4. The history.
It is surprising how much you can learn at one of these things. There is no end to the volunteers who are wiling to teach you a new skill, be it blacksmithing, weaving, belly dancing, or archery. You can pick up a few tips or just shop for supplies. A really good Renaissance fair will have several stations where you can learn about life in the Middle Ages. Watch how traditional arrows were made by hand or learn about how armor is made while a blacksmith manipulates a piece of iron in front of you. Everyone is happy to talk to you about what they are doing, and it is a very welcoming environment. Kids in particular can have a great day at a Ren fair.
5. The shopping. OK, I know it sounds crazy, but you can get amazing things at a Ren fair. They are essentially the brick-and-mortar Etsy. People will sell their wares—everything from local honey to hand-spun fabric and functional armor and swords—in canvas tents. You can also find a nice collection of paper and leather products as well as historical knickknacks. If you are really looking for that special Christmas gift, or if your local farmers market just hasn’t been enough for you lately, consider taking a day and checking out what the fair has to offer.
No matter why you go, trust me, it will be so much more fun than you are expecting. Let your guard down a little and explore some new boundaries right in your own backyard.
Ever been to a Renaissance fair? Tell us what you think.
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube