AskDefine | Define fairs

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of fair

Extensive Definition

A fair is a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy associated carnival or funfair entertainment. Activities at fairs vary widely. Some are important showcases for businessmen in agricultural, pastoral or horticultural districts because they present opportunities to display and demonstrate the latest machinery on the market.
Fairs are also known by many different names around the world, such as agricultural show, carnival, fete or fête, county or state fair, festival, market and show, etc. Flea markets are sometimes incorporated into a fair.


Fayre is an archaic spelling of fair, used mostly from the 15th to the 17th century. This spelling is now confusingly used for both fair and fare, the latter in the sense of 'food and drink'. In itself, the word means a gathering of stalls and amusements for public entertainment. The alternate spelling is an old fashioned affectation and is used in order to remind revellers and participants of medieval fayres and markets.


The fair is an ancient tradition, and many communities have long had dedicated fairgrounds; others hold them in a variety of public places, including streets and town squares, or even in large private gardens. Fairs are often held in conjunction with a significant event, such as the anniversary of a local historical event, a seasonal event such as harvest time, or with a holiday such as Christmas.
That part of a fair (commonly an American fair such as a county or state fair) where amusement park rides, entertainment and fast food booths are concentrated is called the midway, after the avenue of amusements at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


In Roman times, fairs were holidays on which there was an intermission of labour and pleadings. In later centuries, on any special Christian religious occasion (particularly the anniversary dedication of a church), tradesmen would bring and sell their wares (even in the churchyards). Such fairs then continued annually, usually on the feast day of the patron saint to whom the church was dedicated. This custom was kept up until the reign of Henry VI, by which time there were a great many fairs kept on these patronal festivals, for example at Westminster on St. Peter's day, at London on St. Bartholomew's (the famous Bartholomew Fair, celebrated in Ben Jonson's play of the same name) and at Durham on St. Cuthbert's day.

Pie-powder courts

See Court of Piepowders
Because of the great numbers of people attracted by fairs they were often the scenes of riots and disturbances, so the privilege of holding a fair was granted by royal charter. At first they were only allowed in towns and places of strength, or where there was some bishop, sheriff or governor who could keep order. In time, various benefits became attached to certain fairs, such as granting people the protection of a holiday, and allowing them freedom from arrests in certain circumstances. The officials were authorised to do justice to those that came to their fair; eventually even the smallest fair would have had a court to adjudicate on offences and disputes arising within the fairground, which was called a pye powder court (from Old French pied pouldre, an itinerant trader, which literally means "dusty feet"), or pedes pulverizati.

Free fairs

Some fairs were free; others charged tolls and impositions. At free fairs, traders, whether natives of the kingdom or foreigners, were allowed to enter the kingdom, and were under royal protection while travelling to and returning from the fair. The traders, their agents, and their goods were exempt from all duties and impositions, tolls and servitudes; merchants going to or coming from the fair could not be arrested, or have their goods stopped.
Such fairs (especially those of the Mediterranean region and some inland regions, particularly Germany), were extremely important in the commerce of Europe. The most famous were those of:
fairs in Arabic: خوف
fairs in Catalan: Fira
fairs in Danish: Handelsmesse
fairs in German: Messe (Wirtschaft)
fairs in Spanish: Feria
fairs in French: Foire
fairs in Hebrew: יריד
fairs in Italian: Fiera
fairs in Dutch: Jaarmarkt
fairs in Polish: Jarmark
fairs in Portuguese: Feira
fairs in Swedish: Marknad (evenemang)
fairs in Turkish: Fuar
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