It isn’t completely unique, as many carnivals and fairs are celebrated in other parts of the world too, but here it is a much anticipated event, celebrating the end of winter in February and focussed on fun, food, elaborate costumes, and parades, and dates back hundreds of years. The arrival of the traditional annual fair was a big event in my hometown in the UK, when a caravan of trucks would arrive and would park up on the village green in a circle, like Wild West wagons. The stalls and rides with their noise and lights would be unpacked as if by magic, and we would queue up for the thrill of rides or some sticky, sweet candyfloss.

Travelling Fairs

The funfair was a medieval innovation, and anyone from the 12th or 13th century would recognise the essentials of ‘ye olde funfair’ were similar to today’s version. The travelling fair was a showcase of attractions growing more elaborate, until Ferris wheels, rollercoasters, etc., became the norm, and provided people some escapism from the cares of daily life.

Freak Shows

Many traveling fairs and circuses in the 1800’s and 1900’s saw the showing of humans - or animals - with physical deformities as a way to make a quick buck. In both the US and Europe, these shows included the likes of ‘Bearded Ladies’, ‘Armless Wonders’, ‘Siamese Twins’, etc., and spectators flocked to see these oddities with physical deformities, some natural, some engineered. Sometimes performers were kidnapped or purchased by show owners who sought to profit from their conditions! Nevertheless, it gave many of these performers a sense of purpose and belonging, and they built camaraderie among similar performers, and it might well have been the only way they earned a living. ‘Political correctness’ finally took hold at the start of the twentieth century, and freak shows became less popular, as exhibitions of physical anomalies were increasingly frowned upon.

Hull Fair appears in Kingston upon Hull, England, for one week in October every year, and draws rides, attractions, and travellers from a wide variety of different regions from around the country. Hull Fair received its first Royal Charter in 1279, although it had operated informally before that time.

The Hoppings

The Hoppings in Newcastle upon Tyne hosts over 400 of the country's biggest and brightest attractions from traditional favourites to the latest jaw-dropping thrill rides and has become a regular feature since it began in 1882, attracting over half a million visitors annually. Several origins for ‘The Hoppings’ have been suggested for the name, and many believe it was originally derived from the hopping or dancing that occurred at the old fairs.

The Rides, The Rides!

Rides (sometimes inducing queasiness on my part!) were often perceived by many as being scary or more dangerous than they actually were. This could be due to their design, having acrophobia (fear of heights), or hearing about accidents involving rides that were similar. Rides can be flat, gravity, vertical, and more recently, some are virtual reality ‘rides’. For some, the adrenaline high associated with amusement rides is part of the experience!

Other fairs across the world

Mardi Gras in the US is massive, and draws thousands of visitors to New Orleans, with music being unamplified and played by brass and percussion instruments, and the whole event is so intimately connected with music that the mere mention of it conjures up the sounds of joyful brass bands and jubilant jazz music for most people.

In India, the Holi Festival is a Hindu celebration devoted to love, spring, and the triumph of good over evil. Participants throw coloured powder at each other, creating a lively and carefree atmosphere enjoyed by both children and adults.

Día de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, is the biggest celebration in Mexican culture and is devoted to commemoration of loved ones who have passed away. The celebration spans three days, accompanied by musical performances, offerings, and traditional skull face painting.

Never underestimate the fun of being a child again and having fun!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan