Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Heritage Festivals

As I was reading through some news feeds that came into my blog reader today, I noticed a story about a Heritage Fest. I will not name the location or the newspaper in which the story appeared because this is not a post about that locality or that paper's coverage of that event at all, but more of a reflection on what a Heritage Festival should be. However, it appeared to me that the festival had very little to do with heritage. As presented in the story, all of the events seemed to have more to do with the present than with the past or with American culture rather than ethnic heritage. There were a few accompanying pictures which seemed to collaborate the conclusion I had drawn.

I began to think about things that I might expect in a Heritage Festival. I will start with what I perceive to be the purpose of such a festival. A heritage festival should either connect one with the early settlers of an area or celebrate the ethnic heritage of the settlers of an area.

How can one achieve the purpose? Let's look at a few ideas.

Live demonstrations - I've seen people demonstrate the various jobs that people might have had in settlement periods. Someone might show how a blacksmith made horseshoes or other items. Another person might demonstrate how a grist mill operated. (This, of course, is assuming that there is a preserved and operational mill in the area.) Someone could demonstrate older methods of farming and planting. Someone might show spinning. Another might demonstrate making lye soap. Quilting, needlework, etc. could also be demonstrated. A demonstration of a one room schoolhouse could also be included. There are many other methods to achieve this.

Speakers - Speakers could provide talks on various subjects related to everyday life, to the history and settlement of the area, to the ethnicity of the area, etc. Of course as a genealogist, I'd like to see one of the speakers address the subject of finding one's own family history. Speakers could also include storytellers who can relate the heritage of the area in an entertaining manner.

Drama - A play based on the settlement of the area or about one of immigration to the area could certainly be a huge hit with the crowds.

Rides or Transportation Exhibits - Wagon rides, train rides, stagecoach rides, or horseback rides would be appropriate for many areas. Places near bodies of water might want to offer a few more options involving old ships and boats, rafts, ferries, etc. If making the ride available will not work out, at least make some exhibits available.

Exhibits - Exhibits of farm implements, old needlework, quilts, old artwork, medical implements (and maybe even leeches), spinning wheels, early laundry items, old cookstoves, animal hides, historic hunting equipment, historic portraits and photographs, things people might have brought from the "old country," etc.

Food - No festival is complete without food! Have foods that the settlers of an area or the ethnic immigrants to the area might have eaten.

While this is certainly not a comprehensive list, it does provide a few options that might have truly made the festival into one which truly celebrated heritage.

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