In America we’re all about instant gratification. If I get it in my head at three in the morning that I need a jar of peanut butter, a pair of socks, and a bicycle, I fully expect that I should be able to drive to a store and get those things that very instant. Not so for the medieval man or woman. They had this thing I’ve heard of, but don’t fully comprehend, called patience.
In the Middle Ages, everyday items could be bought at the market. But if you wanted to buy something special–something rare or exotic– you had to wait for a fair. And by wait, I mean WAIT. Fairs happened once, maybe twice a year, unless you were lucky enough to live in Champagne. Those show-offs held six fairs a year. I guess producing the world’s best sparkling wine just wasn’t enough for them.
Everyone else had to wait. And if they didn’t live in a city that held a fair, they had to travel by horse or on foot. But it would have been worth the blisters and saddle butt for a chance to go to the fair.
Because fairs were awesome, that’s why.
Vendors brought goods to the fair from all over the world–Africa, the Mediterranean, the Spice Islands, China. This might not seem like a big deal in our global economy, but it was pretty freaking huge back then.
Imagine living in medieval Scotland. You walk around wearing a combination of stiff linen and scratchy wool all day long. Then you go to the fair and find a man selling silk imported from China, or Cathay as it was called at the time. Not only is it beautiful and soft and unlike anything you can find at home, but it also comes from a land that, thanks in part to Marco Polo, you have some very strange ideas about.
Marco Polo reported seeing a variety of fantastic things on his journey to the East. He mentions cities made of gold. He talked of strange races of men who, instead of heads, had faces in their chests, or dog heads, or one leg with a foot so big they use it to shade themselves from the sun. It is all very exotic and mystical, and the fair gives you a small glimpse into these strange, exciting lands from across the globe.
Of course there’s more to the fair than just shopping–there’s the entertainment! Vendors want to compete for your attention. They can do this by yelling, but everybody’s yelling. So the savvy vendor draws you in with a spectacle. They hire acrobats and jugglers, jesters and trained bears, bards and musicians. The more talented the better, because if you stop for the show, you just might have a look at their tent while you’re there.
Finally, there’s the food.
If you walk around a medieval fair, you’ll find people hawking meat pies, tankards of ale, and other tasty treats. But if you’re looking for giant turkey legs and fried snickers, I’m afraid you’ll have to visit a more modern type of fair…
The Renaissance Fair
Recently I learned that there’s a Renaissance Fair just an hour and half away from me, in Holly, Michigan. How did I go my whole life without knowing this? And it just so happened that this last weekend was a Celtic themed festival. Of course the hubby and I had to go!
When we reached the grounds, we found ourselves surrounded by costumed people. I haven’t experienced such good people-watching since I went to Comic Con last year.
I can’t say the place was historically accurate to the Renaissance, the Middle Ages, or any other time period. But it did share a lot of features with Medieval fairs.
There was plenty of shopping:
Lots of entertainment:
Plenty of music:
I especially liked this band:
They’re called Raven Song. You can find them on Facebook.
Here’s a recording I took on my iPhone:
They also had a jousting tournament:
And men in kilts throwing 57 lb weights:
And of course, giant turkey legs:
The hubby and I had a great time at the Renaissance Fair. Did I mention it was our anniversary?