Sure summer is over, but there's a lot to celebrate in fall -- not the least of which is the kids getting back to school and out from underfoot. There are festivals galore, wherever you live celebrating harvests, food, music and crafts, and increasingly, they have a family component.
And festivals can teach us all a lesson or two along the way. In Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sept. 8, for example, Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, is hosting conversations on the importance of the legacies of enslaved people as part of the The Heritage Harvest Festival, a hands-on, family-friendly event promoting gardening, sustainability, local food and historical plants. Jefferson famously experimented with more than 300 varieties of vegetables and herbs and the festival honors not only his efforts but the enslaved individuals responsible for the kitchen, gardens and grounds of Monticello. Kids can swap seeds, play historic games, join a scavenger hunt in the garden or see if they can identify dozens of tomato varieties.
If there are young historians in your gang, The Atlanta Warbird Weekend (Oct 7 through 8) at the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Chamblee, Georgia, will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen and the achievements of African-American pilots, complete with some of the original Tuskegee Airmen on hand to hopefully, inspire the next generation. African-Americans were excluded from meaningful military service opportunities during WWII, but with the demands of war and pressure from civil rights groups, the famous segregated flying squadron was created and went on to great success.
A festival can be a way to encourage and inspire kids' interest in music, food, even puppeteering, like at the Greensboro, N.C., 2017 Folk Festival the weekend of September 8. It's a free event which draws more than 130,000 people with interactive performances, hands-on crafts for the kids, games and a Generation Now! program that showcases young emerging masters of traditional music, crafts, storytelling and puppeteering. Make visiting a regional festival a new family tradition!
Kids love watching wood carvers at work during French Lick, Indiana's Block Bash,as the country's top chainsaw wood carvers work all weekend long (Sept. 15 to 17). There is also music, a beer garden, car show and more -- if you can get the kids away from watching the carvers!
We'll be heading to Crested Butte, Colorado, so my husband can join my daughter in competing for the best chili in the town's Chili and Beer Festival. (And since her apartment stove may not be up to the task of 10 gallons of chili, I'm glad we found a condo with a nice kitchen from www.VRBO.com).
There are oyster festivals and apple festivals, including (just northwest of Gettysburg), the National Apple Harvest Festival held the first two weekends in October, complete with apple pie-eating and apple baking competitions and strolling Apple, Honey Bee, Worm & Johnny Appleseed characters. There's also a petting zoo and plenty of places nearby to pick apples.) Or try a cranberry festival. (Warren, Wisconsin, is the country's largest producer of cranberries and celebrates big time the last weekend in September.)
The key is to find a festival that will be fun for the kids, as well as for you. Enjoy a beer and German pretzel, perhaps, while you and the kids are watching the Running of the Wieners U.S., Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (Sept 15 to17). Dachshunds in hot-dog-bun costumes make a 75-foot dash toward their owners at the finish line. Have you ever eaten a sauerkraut ball? Danced the chicken dance -- in public?
How about getting up before dawn for a science lesson -- like what makes hot-air balloons fly. Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta is the biggest such event in the world with special evening "glow" events, special shaped balloons, balloon races and more. Make sure to eat some tacos while you're there!
Time travel back to a 16th-century English village, complete with King Henry VIII and his court, at the Maryland Renaissance Festival (weekends through Oct 22) in Annapolis. Maryland. Enjoy jousting competitions music, food, crafts and more.
Got any young musicians in the crowd? Columbia, Missouri's Roots N Blues BBQ Festival, Sept 29 through Oct 1, is not only one of the Midwest's biggest music festivals, but welcomes kids 12 and under free with an adult admission. They'll love all the interactive art installations!
Kids will also love stomping on the grapes in Sonoma County, California, or trailing sheep in Idaho or listening to Elk bugle in Estes Park, Colorado. Celebrate all things elk (including a bugling contest) in Estes Park, during Elk Fest the last weekend in September while Snow Mountain Ranch on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park hosts Fall Fest weekends in September, complete with a pumpkin seed-spitting contest and a fortune-telling goat.
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair runs Oct. 6 through 8 in Sonoma, California, and invites everyone to join in the World Championship Grape Stomp, along with cow milking contests, pumpkin tosses, an Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off, as well as music and art.
Let's not forget corn mazes (like the huge one with more than nine miles of trails at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring, Grove, Illinois, about an hour from Chicago. This year's maze is a tribute to the champion Chicago Cubs), carnival rides, and jumping in the leaves.
Ready, set, jump!