"Hey guys, anyone interested in watching huge men riding even bigger horses at a full gallop in an attempt to knock each other off with eleven foot long solid wood poles? Oh, and we get to wear costumes."
The answer in our household to questions like that is always a resounding, “yes!”
Renaissance Festivals, also known as Medieval Faires, are a lot of fun for families, couples and groups of friends. We enjoy them the most when we really let loose and embrace the event with friends and family. But now that we’re empty nesters we’re also starting to enjoy them as “just a couple’. I have to be honest, it’s kind of fun to walk together arm in arm watching other parents enjoying (and struggling through) time with their kids.
Costumes abound at medieval faires but don’t fret if you don’t have one. Our favourite part of the festival is when each of us gets to pick out one new item to add to our growing selection of medieval costume pieces. The girls tend to pick out pretty hair accessories and jewelry while the dad drifts towards the metal and leatherwork. Although I had my eye on a really nicely embossed leather pouch this weekend. Prices from vendors at local festivals tend to be quite reasonable and I’m always pleased to support local artisans.
We always start our trip to the faire with a bit of browsing at the vendors, though we usually wait to spend our money until later in the day when we’ve had time to absorb everything. I also love getting a henna or jagua design done when I go to a faire. I try to stick with something inexpensive (under $20). The designs last on your skin for about 2 weeks.
Temporary or Permanent
The last medieval faire we visited was in Brooks, Alberta in August. It’s a perfect example of a temporary renaissance festival. It runs one weekend each year and is hosted by passionate locals who love to share their knowledge and love of all things medieval.
The Brooks Renaissance Faire included melee fighting tournaments, a king’s feast, archery demonstrations, jousting, birds of prey, blacksmithing demonstrations and lessons, acrobatic dancers, a medieval tent village full of local actors participating in ordinary tasks of the time period, games, vendors and food trucks.
The Brooks festival is really well done! And with a little searching, you can likely find a similar festival near you sometime during the year. With search engines, finding them is a lot easier than it used to be, hehe. You just have to search “renaissance faire near me” and you should find something.
Permanent festivals are a bit more like theme parks. They usually run all year or in colder climates through the summer and autumn. They’re more expensive, but they have more activities, more vendors, professional actors and permanent buildings. They’re also pricier and a bit tougher to manage with bigger crowds and lots of different shows and activities happening simultaneously.
I recommend attending local faires a few times before traveling to one of the big theme park ones. That gives you the chance to put together costumes and learn what types of activities your family enjoys.
Every festival has a host of different activities. There is usually a schedule available prior to the opening day which will give you the chance to plan your visit. At local faires, the activities tend to be spaced out so that you can see everything offered that day. At permanent faires, the most popular shows often overlap with niche shows so you need to pick and choose what you’d like to participate in.
At the Brooks Festival, the knights jousting (and their horses) were a professional traveling group from around the world. They were really the only non-local participants at the festival.
The joust is one of the most popular events at a festival so it makes sense to hire a group to make sure it’s done well and safely. It’s a challenging sport that requires a lot of training, equipment and some pretty amazing horses.
The joust typically begins with the king and queen of the faire greeting the audience and turning things over to an announcer who introduces the knights. The crowd is split into sections, with each section cheering for one of the knights. The knights each give a flower to one of the ladies in their section of the crowd (often a young girl or someone with an awesome costume). In Brooks, the girl in our section was about 10 years old, had a great costume and was adorably knowledgeable enough to remove a ribbon from her hair for the knight to tie to his armour during the tournament. It was pretty cute — everyone in the audience, including me, ooohed and aaahed.
After the showmanship is over, things get real! Two knights line up in the lists and ride their horses at each other. Each knight carries an eleven foot wooden pole called a lance (usually made from Douglas Fir trees). They use the lance to try to knock their opponent off their horse.
The horses are a large breed called destriers. Though some jousts use the smaller charger breed. In Brooks, they were using destriers. They were powerful, beautiful and eager to charge.
Melee Fighting Tournament
Unlike the hired jousters, the melee fighters were from local clubs. Each club had a team who fought in the tournament.
In Brooks, they had a 3vs3, a 5vs5 and a 10vs10 tournament. Both men and women donned up to 100 pounds of armour and battled with weapons of all sorts including longswords, axes, shields and maces.
For both the jousts and melee fighting, we like to attend early in the festival. The activities are hard on people and equipment. Sometimes the tournaments wrap up early because they’ve run out of people willing and able to fight.
Brooks didn’t have any fire eaters or jugglers this year, but fire skills are some of my favourite to watch. I really like the fire whip demonstration at the Texas Renaissance Faire!
Every faire has a few people working at the festival in elaborate costumes. They’re typically happy to pose for photos and usually try hard to engage the kids at the faire.
At the Brooks Faire there was a very elaborate Mongolian warrior that the kids all loved! Which brings up a point about costumes. Although it’s a medieval faire, you don’t have to stick to European Renaissance styles (knights and princesses). Have fun with whatever ancient warriors you like. We saw a great group of samurais, a druidic priest and priestess, someone who looked a bit like an Egyptian fairy and the Mongolian warrior. It all adds fun flavour to the faire.
I actually like making my own medieval meal rather than attending the feast but that’s because I like cooking, hehe. Having said that it’s actually pretty fun to sit down at the feast and chow down on a big turkey drumstick and some brown bread. The feasts usually have some sort of entertainment like pipers, lutists or harpists. We even learned to dance the Trencher one year (it’s sort of a medieval line dance).
So as much as I like cooking pottage and elk sausage, we do try to make it to a medieval feast every year or two.
Costumes are my favourite way to get everyone in the medieval mood. With young children, costumes are usually pretty easy... just make use of whatever princess dresses, capes, nerf swords or toy bows you happen to have on hand. You can even make simple braided leather jewelry, beaded crowns or crocheted wire jewelry (bracelets/cuffs and necklaces) for boys or for girls.
Where To Stay
Small town local faires usually have some decent chain hotels and motels close by at reasonable prices. We stayed at Heritage Inn in Brooks for $125 per night. We honestly could have just driven from our house instead of staying overnight, but we wanted to make a weekend of it.
Camping is also a great option. Many faires have on site camping available. Some of the permanent ones even have “glamping” or cabin options. It’s a lot fun to stay in a canvas tent that’s decorated in a medieval style!
I always like to bring along a refillable water bottle and a few activities for downtimes at festivals. Simple scavenger hunt pages, themed crosswords, word searches or a deck of cards work great while picnicking under the shade of a tree or sitting in the stands waiting for the joust to start. I Spy is also a fun time passer ... there are so many odd things to spy!
These days we’re adventuring more without the girls and Darren has lamented that he misses my “bag of goodies”. Note to self: husbands like carrot sticks and scavenger hunts too!
How to Make a Two Minute Medieval Shirt
What you need:
- long sleeved t-shirt in a neutral or natural colour (beige, brown, green)
- Turn a long sleeved t-shirt inside out.
- Cut off the bottom hem, arm cuffs and neck cuff.
- Optional: cut a 2 to 4 inch slit in the front of the shirt and add some grommets and leather lacing. Although this is fun, it really isn't necessary!
This gives the shirt a very medieval peasant look. You should choose a natural coloured shirt — creams, beiges or browns work best. Or you can pick greens for a Robin Hood feel. Girls can put a belt around it and wear with black or brown leggings. Guys can wear it belted or unbelted over pretty much any colour of hiking pants or khakis. The shirt can be from a thrift store or an old one of your own and since you’re cutting off the hems and cuffs, it can be a bit too long on you and you can cut it down to the size you like.
Disclaimer: We weren’t given anything for writing this article nor did we stay for free or at a discounted rate. No one was even aware we were planning to write about our visit. Our opinions are solely our own.
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All photos in this blog post are copyright Leanne Guenther.
Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites. The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support. DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!). Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials. Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!
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