Festivals around the world promote continuity and community. Whether you’re part of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, India’s Holi, or even a local Oktoberfest, form and scale don’t matter.
Just about every church, town and crossroads has always celebrated its annual agricultural cycles. Each of these occasions, in its own way, reassures us that the moment will last forever, that all is well with our world.
In central Pennsylvania, certain events are as regular as the phases of the moon. “Grange Fair weather” marks the unofficial end of summer. Some years it’s wet, other times it’s dry, but the night air is always chilly.
Ever since 1891, folks in McClure have dished up their Civil War-style bean soup to warm your innards before the onset of winter.
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Long before it became the title of the longest-running Broadway show, Penns Valley’s neighbors dressed up as “Fantasticks” on New Year’s Day and pulled pranks at every house along their route.
March was the time to break late winter doldrums by holding a Dandelion Festival. And there was always the standard patriotic fanfare and hoopla on Decoration Day and the Fourth of July.
Events during the warmer months were more frequent with seasonal agricultural themes: strawberry festivals in June, pumpkin festivals in October and Harvest Home in November.
You butchered hogs at Thanksgiving. Christmas was for throwing parties and visiting neighbors. The latter holiday was especially memorable because someone gave you a toy, a rare piece of fruit or some candy.
Festivals were — and still are — homecomings and reunions. You can catch up on news, gossip and recipes. Politicians make their rounds with promises and speeches. Festivals have even served as indirect ways to dilute the gene pool.
Some practical jokes were more popular than others. For example, back in the day when white pants were fashionable, it was common for your friends to smear manure on your buggy’s seat. (Today, thankfully, we can lock our car doors.)
Anyone who attends the annual festival at the eastern edge of Woodward feels a similar sense of timeless charm. This feeling especially strikes those who return after decades-long absences. You hear the constant refrains of “It never changes!” and “It’s exactly as I remember it!”
Change occurs slowly here. Introducing electricity sometime back in the ’40s was the last major improvement this festival needed and made.
No crafters hawk their trinkets and doo-dads here. No, this festival is mostly about food. Lots of it, with chicken dinners served on Friday night and pork on Saturday.
There’s also plenty of music. The watermelon spin costs a quarter. Other coin toss stands may nickel-and-dime you to death, if you let them, but it’s all for a good cause. And don’t forget Saturday night’s cake auction.
So if you want to experience an authentic piece of the past this weekend, head east on Route 45, down to the end of the world as you know it, turn left, and go toward the light at the edge of the woods.