When Did Fairs Begin?
Fairs grew out of early religious festivals, when people gathered together to celebrate, and merchants would bring their goods to sell and trade. In fact, the name “fair” comes from a Latin word meaning holiday or feast day. Great fairs were held every year in certain cities. As a rule, a fair lasted several weeks. The fairs were often very festive. Jugglers, acrobats, sideshows, and games made going to the fair great fun.
“Come to the fair” is still an invitation for buying and selling, for holding contests, and for having a good time. Variations of fairs include trade fair, street fair, agricultural show, fête, county fair, exhibition or state fair, festival, traveling carnival or traveling funfair.
The Roman fairs were holidays on which there was an intermission of labour and pleadings. In the Roman provinces of Judea and Syria Palaestina, Jewish rabbis prohibited Jews from participating in fairs in certain towns because the religious nature of the fairs contravened the prescribed practice of Judaism.
In the Middle Ages many fairs developed as temporary markets and were especially important for long-distance and international trade, as wholesale traders traveled, sometimes for many days, to fairs where they could be sure to meet those they needed to buy from or sell to.
Fairs were usually tied to a special Christian religious occasions, such as the Saint’s day of the local church. Stagshaw in England, is documented to have held annual fairs as early as 1293 consisting of the sales of animals. Along with the main fair held on 4 July, the city also hosted smaller fairs throughout the year where specific types of animals were sold, such as one for horses, one for lambs, and one for ewes.
In the United States fairs draw in as many as 150 million people each summer. Children’s competitions at an American fair range from breeding small animals to robotics, whilst the organization 4-H has become a traditional association.