Join in the Merriment at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival

When you live in Minnesota, there are two much-anticipated August events that acknowledge the gradual slide from summer to fall: The Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.

Both events have a storied history (the State Fair has been around for 155 years; the Renaissance Festival for 43), they are both here-and-then gone (12 consecutive days for the Fair; 16 weekend days, Labor Day, and “Festival Friday” for “Renfest”), they both boast record attendance (the Renaissance Festival is the largest in the country, attracting 300,000 people; the Minnesota State Fair attracts 1.8 million people and is the second-largest state fair in the country—trailing only behind the Texas State Fair in attendance, but their fair also goes two weeks longer than ours), and they are both located on massive plots of land (320 acres for the State Fair in St. Paul; 150 acres for the Renaissance Festival in Shakopee). Best of all, they are both pure fun. It’s nearly impossible to have a bad time at either fair.   

Renfest maidens

Renfest maidens photo by George Day

Depending on your personality, you love them for different reasons. You can’t buy Sweet Martha’s cookies at the Renaissance Festival, and you won’t see role-playing lords and ladies (in abundance) at the State Fair. There are no Midway rides at the Renaissance Festival, or butter sculptures, or livestock, or big rock/pop/country concerts, and that’s ok. I go for the delicious turkey legs, the cold ale or mead (honey wine), the belly dancers, the jousting, the strolling magicians, the elephant rides, the unique arts and crafts shoppes lining the streets of the “village,” the old-fashioned acts (I will never forget how hard my dad laughed when we saw comedians Puke and Snot many years ago) and the theatrical aspect of wandering through a 16th-century village ruled by King Henry and Lady Elizabeth. The costumes are great—an overabundance of belts, boots, flowy blouses, corsets, tights, cloaks, and long hoop skirts—and the authentic language adds to the colorful fun (“Good day, my lady,” “Whither be the privies?” “How stands the hour, my lord, good sir?”).

Attendees are a mix of artisans, athletes, actors, historians, dreamers, role-players, creative dressers, and anyone with a healthy imagination and sense of humor. The experience is a welcome break from the constant technology of today, a living history lesson, and a taste of what life was like hundreds of years ago (minus those awful epidemic diseases). There’s an element of surprise when you go—who knows what will happen once you’re inside the village? You are just as likely to cross paths with royalty as you are common peasants. You might be randomly pulled into a street act, becoming part of the routine (this happened to my sister-in-law a few years ago). Odds are very good that you’ll find yourself smiling and laughing a lot as you take it all in.

Huzzah! I doth adore thee, Renfest.

 *Visit the Renaissance Festival this weekend, August 24, for the Bloomers and Tights Royal 5K at 10 a.m. A $35 pre-race admission includes a 3.2 mile walk/run through wooded trails and on gravel paths outside the Kingdom’s gates (race with Queen Elizabeth and her Royal Court), entrance to the Renaissance Festival, a race t-shirt, a beer (or soda), and a race bag. Don’t forget to wear your bloomers and tights. Everyone will receive a special gift from the King for participating, but additional rewards will be given to the fastest male and female runners, most creative bloomers/tights, and best legs! You may track your own time, however time is not official, will not be published, and will not be necessary to win riches from the King. Click here to purchase tickets to the race.

General admission is $22.95 at the gate for adults; $19.95 in advance; $13.95 for kids 5-12 at the gate; $11.50 in advance. Children 4 and under are free. You can purchase advance tickets at SuperAmerica, Menards, Whole Foods, and Walgreens, or online here. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine. Parking is free.