Greek Fest, Saginaw, MI

Summer is the time for festivals—many cities across the globe will have celebrations of their heritage. Some towns will pay homage to their history through Founders’ Day or patron saint festivities. Some cities will honor the product that brought prosperity to their area, such as the Bordeaux Wine Festival. While some locales will pay tribute to their ethnic and religious diversity with Greek, Polish, German, and other ethnic fests. Whether your town is celebrating art, music, food, or heritage, here are four reasons you should race to a nearby summer festival.

  1. To learn about local culture—At the heart of the festival is an exploration of the area’s culture—history, ethnicity, religion, art, or music. Yesterday, I attended a Greek Fest in Saginaw, Michigan. Watching kids perform traditional Greek dance brought a smile to my face. I was transported back to Greece for a moment and reflected on the ethnic heritage of the city. Reveling in an area’s traditions promotes understanding of our shared, yet diversified, past. See my short piece on immigration history: Heightened History. Ann Arbor, Michigan holds a world-class art festival each summer where one can enjoy the talents of painters, sculptors, glass-blowers, and artists of other mediums. Art festivals are a splendid way to find up-and-coming artists or to appreciate the craftsmanship of those whose pieces may never grace a museum or gallery. Summer music festivals might be a huge shindig, like Lollapalooza, or a less-costly affair such as Chicago’s Blues Fest. Paid or free, music fests generally showcase local talent ranging the gamut of genres.
  2. Enjoy food and drink—Many festivals focus on food. Over the years, I’ve eaten my way through fetes glorifying corn, potatoes, sausage, beer, wine, Italian, German, and Polish food, and so much more. At the Greek Fest, I feasted on gyros, calamari, saganaki (flaming cheese), and loukoumathes (honey puffs). The Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan is a favorite of mine. A week-long celebration of everything cherry—from wine to pie to salsa—this northern Michigan town knows how to show visitors a good time, as well as show off the product that made them famous. Whether you’re savoring the pungent flavor of garlic in Gilroy, California or tantalizing your taste buds with sweet lobster in Rockland, Maine, culinary delights abound at summer festivals.
  3. Connect with your neighbors—Whether you’re from a big metropolis or a smaller city, a summer festival draws the neighbors into one place. You can reconnect with old acquaintances or meet new friends. Singles may find an opportunity to make a match with someone who shares their love of whatever the festival is celebrating. You can revel in the gaiety by joining an impromptu dance or hoisting a libation and toasting to the good health of the community. Despite the size of the city, festivals have a way of bringing people together with a small-town feel.
  4. Fun at a reasonable price—Hours of enjoyment can be had for a reasonable (or free) price of admission. Although some attractions may cost dearly, most festivals have some form of entertainment (parades, music, dancing) included with the cost of admission. You can people-watch for hours, and socializing comes at no additional fee. Although some fairs have a carnival-esque quality with rides that can get pricey for parents, I’ve witnessed many children enjoying dancing and playing with each other for free. With good planning (and extra drinks and snacks in your bag), food costs can be comparable to that of a dinner out.

I hope that everyone revels in the festivals being offered during summer. Tweet me @travelhistory1 to tell me your favorite festival—I’m always looking for a new one to explore.