Create a Festival

The Beer Festival is back in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In most ways, this doesn’t matter to me at all. I’m not a beer drinker and my tolerance for crowds is greatly diminished after more than two years of pandemic. But still, the notion of any kind of festival is a joyous jolt of normalcy. Our county was just official declared “Low” for COVID spread and festivals are beginning. I’m sure there are people looking forward to the Beer Festival as much as I’m anticipating the Art Fairs next month.

Festivals are plentiful in Michigan. We have a variety of film festivals, the National Cherry Festival (Did you know Michigan is the country’s largest producer of tart cherries?), Bay-Rama FlyFish Festival, Red Cedar Jubilee, several Celtic festivals, the Kite Festival, Pasty Fest (celebrating the Upper Peninsula’s favorite hand pies), Mackinac Island’s Fudge Festival, Mighty Uke Day, The Michigan Bacon Festival, Lumberjack Festival, National Blueberry Festival, Howell Melon Festival, a host of music festivals, and many many more.  Each festival celebrates something unique or important in the area’s culture.

When I thought about the festivals, particularly some of the smaller ones, they reminded me of the various neighborhood events we used to organize as children. Absent the many organized recreational activities available today, we organized bike races, field days, and even a neighborhood circus (for which I told fortunes with an empty glass globe!). If young people in your home are looking for a summer activity, perhaps organizing a neighborhood festival might be just the thing. Organizing a festival could also be an outstanding elementary summer school activity, filled with opportunities for practicing math and literacy skills.  It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t even have to be very good, as long as the young people like it. Be alert to the temptation of wanting to intervene so that the event impresses other adults. You could help with planning, if asked. You could help with logistics, if needed. But truly, this should be their show. Think about this basic outline.

  1. Identify a natural feature, animal, or product that is important in your area. Is your neighborhood filled with squirrels? Does a nearby factory produce shoes? Are local gardens filled with zucchini? Choosing a theme for your festival is a perfect opportunity to practice various types of brainstorming.
  2. Plan games or other activities that fit with your theme. These don’t need to be elaborate. A squirrel festival could feature a game that involves throwing a ball “nut” into a cardboard cutout of the squirrel mouth, Pin the Tail on the Squirrel, or squirrel races in which participants must run without losing the squirrel tail taped to their clothing. These can be particularly meaningful when older children plan activities that younger ones will enjoy.
  3. Think about food. Costs and safety can make this tricky. Real festivals, of course, sell treats, and you could do that if you are inviting the whole neighborhood. Perhaps organizers of the Squirrel Festival might sell small bags of cereal mix (simulating nuts while trying to avoid nut allergies) and lemonade. If you are feasting with just a few families of friends, it might be possible to bake cookies or other treats to share. You might decide food isn’t feasible. That’s OK. Let the young people enjoy games together, regardless.

Many (many many!) years later, I still find joy in remembering the events we organized as children. I’m sure if I were to see our neighborhood circus today, it would appear much less impressive than it did through my eyes at the time. But isn’t that part of the point? Not only did we organize events in real life, but we also viewed them, at least in part, through the eyes of our imagination. If there is an original festival in your future, I hope it brings you that joy.

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