Arts & Entertainment

What is a Ren Faire?

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Knight on horse
A knight prepares himself for jousting at a Ren Faire arena
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A Ren Faire is an entertaining and educational place to visit with your family.

In the last 50 years, there has been an increased interest in all things medieval. The kids and I attended a very small-scale medieval fair at our local public library last summer, complete with a troubadour magician. On various blogs, I've heard people mention attending a Ren Faire - which got me wondering: what is a Ren Faire?

The Meaning

Ren Faire is short for Renaissance Faire (sometimes spelled "fair" or called a Renaissance festival). A Renaissance fair is a little like an amusement park for history buffs. The fair is designed to resemble a fair or market day during the Renaissance. Most Ren Fairs are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, although you will also find festivals set in the time of Henry VIII, the Vikings, or the Pirates. Scottish and Celtic festivals are popular, too, with traditional Scottish or Irish attractions.

The Atmosphere

The fair itself is set up like a fair or small town during the chosen time period. Actors and actresses roam the streets, dressed in period costumes. Visitors are also encouraged to dress up and participate in the spirit of things. The authenticity of Ren Fairs varies widely - some are very educational, much like a living history museum. Others are more entertainment related - and often include people dressing up as various fantasy characters such as elves or wizards.

The Attractions

Attractions at Ren Fairs usually include music, magic, juggling, and dance. Traditional sporting events are also popular; these include jousting, axe throwing, and horse riding competitions. There may be animal exhibits, such as falconry. There are booths where you can buy or rent costumes; purchase Renaissance-themed artwork, books, and handcrafts; and booths where you can fill your belly with medieval food. The end of the day usually brings a concert or parade as a way of thanking the visitors and bidding them goodbye.

The History

Although Ren Fairs celebrate the glory of the European Renaissance - usually focusing on England - they are an American phenomenon. The first Ren Fair, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura, Calif., began in 1963. The creators, Ronald and Phyllis Patterson, were school teachers, and developed the Faire as a school project. There are now hundreds of Renaissance Fairs in the United States, and some countries in Europe have picked up on the trend.

What is a Ren Faire? It's an educational experience wrapped up in an amusement park, and a place where you and your family can learn some history and have a lot of fun. For an extensive list of Renaissance Fairs, including dates and locations, check out The Directorie.

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