Our country fair is around the corner and even though I no longer show livestock (Cotswold sheep & llamas) or have the 4–H groups, we none the less participate in some way. Amazingly enough fairs started many years ago- thousands in fact.
Old and New Testament references to fairs are mixed with allusions to commerce, trade, the marketplace, festivals, religious feasts and holy days. Where and when the first fair was held is not known, however, evidence points to the existence of fairs as early as 500 BC.
From the beginning, fairs were commercial in character, where merchants from distant countries would come together, bringing native wares to trade with one another. While it is not clearly explained in Ezekiel or in other biblical references, it is reasonable to assume that "fair" was the name given to the place at which early trading between foreign merchants was conducted.
Scripture records in the book of Ezekiel: "Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the kinds of riches with silver, iron, tin and lead, they traded in thy fairs." Ezekiel's account of the destruction of
Tyre, supposedly written about 588 BC, describes as an important
market and fair center. Tyre
It is clear that some sort of religious activity was companion to the commerce. The Latin world "feria" meaning holy day, is probably the root of the word "fair." Each feria was a day when large numbers of people would assemble for worship. Worship in those early days was centered around temples in great cities, including Ninevah,
Athens, Rome and .
These cities were also respected as the great commercial centers of the world.
Fields adjacent to these temples were staked out for traders. Religious figures
were placed about the fields in order to protect the traders and merchants. Mecca
During the early Christian era, the church took an active part in sponsoring fairs on feast days, and as a result, fairs came to be a source of revenue for the church. Possibly, our modern church bazaars possess some rudiments of these religious fairs.
This evolution which blended religion and commerce continued over time and moved into western Europe. Periodic gatherings brought together the producers of all types of commodities for the purpose of barter, exchange and sale. Entertainment and other forms of activity were later added to draw people, thus giving us fairs as we know them today.
In 1765 the first American fair was presented in
. Many small fairs
were held during the early 1700's in French Canada while under French rule. Windsor,
Later, Elkanah Watson, a New England patriot and farmer, earned the title, "Father of US agricultural fairs" by organizing the Berkshire Agricultural Society and creating an event known then as a Cattle Show in
in September 1811. It was more than just an exhibit of animals – it was a
competition, with prize money ($70) paid for the best exhibits of oxen, cattle,
swine and sheep. Pittsfield, Massachusetts
|Painting of Watson by Cople|
Watson worked diligently for many years helping communities organize their own agricultural societies and their respective shows (fairs). By 1819 most counties in
The core elements of those agricultural exhibitions fairs of the early 1800s are at the heart of the agricultural fair in
North America today.
Today, over 3,200 fairs are held in North America
each year. They provide industrial exhibits, demonstrations and competition
aimed at the advancement of livestock, horticulture and agriculture with
special emphasis placed on educational activities such as 4-H, Future Farmers of America and similar
youth development programs. While enjoying these high-minded pursuits, fair
visitors are also able to see, hear, touch, smell and taste the richness and
variety of what the world has to offer.