Absence can make the heart grow fonder, and fairs that have been part of Western Massachusetts for decades or even longer are no exception.
The Littleville, Westfield and Hardwick Community fairs have already delivered wonderful community fun over the past few weeks. Today, the gates will open for the latest edition of the Cummington Fair. The Three County and Blandford fairs will arrive on Labor Day weekend, and Belchertown and Franklin County fairs, along with the most spectacular of all, the Eastern States Exposition, are lined up for later in September.
The Hardwick Community Fair dates back to 1762 and advertises itself as the oldest agricultural fair in the country – older, in fact, than the United States itself. Northampton’s Three County Fair has been around for a mere 205 years, dating to 1818.
Fairs have been part of the New England fabric since colonial times. They boast long, proud histories, tied to the agricultural roots of our region and nation.
It’s no secret they face challenges. Staging a fair requires substantial sponsorship and volunteer assistance. And, as the 2022 fair season rolls out, some people are still a bit nervous about large, group gatherings after a pandemic that has morphed into an endemic.
Even those eager to attend fairs have to get back in the routine. The 2020 season was entirely wiped out by COVID-19, and though most fairs reopened in 2021, they were deeply affected as well.
The Belchertown Fair is returning for its 163rd event after being shut down in 2020 and 2021. Organizers are showing caution this year, but also confidence they can navigate the challenge of presenting a safe, enjoyable event.
As we all know, the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic was partly psychological. Fairs and other activities, some of which had been continuous for more than a century and during wars and other calamities, were disrupted or called off.
That realization created a sense of loss not easily measured but very real. But fairs are back to celebrating our region’s agricultural heritage and ushering in that very New England season of autumn and time of harvest.
It’s worth taking the time to enjoy and support these festivals, and to appreciate the work by so many people to stage these enduring events that maintain their appeal, perhaps now more than ever.