This article originally appeared on the Josiah Bartlett Center’s website.


It’s fall fair season, which in New England is known as the most wonderful time of the year. 

Why do people love fall fairs so much?

Because they’re not really fairs. They’re markets. 

And markets make people happy.

The thrill of a fall fair is enhanced by the crisp, autumn air, the foliage, the drive through the countryside to get there, and the sense of excitement that comes with anticipating sweet treats, games, rides, and the bustle of a happy crowd.

But those are all the whipped cream on top of the steaming mug of cider.

The real attraction is the experience of participating in a miniature (and temporary) marketplace.

For all the buzz and excitement, a fall fair is really a self-contained venue for the selling of goods and services. (That the goods and services are peddled by traveling carnies is just a bonus.)

Whether you go in pursuit of funnel cakes and caramel apples or rides, games and other amusements, once you enter the fair you’re basically shopping. 

You run around deciding whether to buy a treat, a souvenir or an experience. You weigh your options, decide what purchases are worth the price, and try to maximize the time and money you have at your disposal. 

There’s no way around it. You’re shopping. 

But it’s shopping with extra stimulation added. (See paragraph five.) 

A big reason we enjoy it so much is that the vendors have learned over the years exactly how to make us happy. 

And after all, that’s the primary objective of any market. 

Ultimately, a market can be defined as strangers inventing ways to profit by making others happy. 

The popcorn peddlers and midway hawkers don’t have any idea who you are. Wherever you came from, whatever you did before, wherever you go after, they don’t care. They have no idea what your politics are, or whether you’ve lived a life of crime or virtue. 

And yet they’re dead set on making you extremely, giddily happy.

Because if you leave happy, they profit, not just this fall but next fall and the fall after that and so on. 

Because they’ve become very good at making us happy, each year when they open the gate, we open our wallets. 

And when we’re all full of cider and candy apples and we’re trying not to fall asleep on the way home, we wish the whole experience would come around more than once a year — so we could repeat the joy of that hours-long series of commercial transactions more often.

If you’ve ever thought about complaining that your favorite fair has been commercialized, well, we hate to break it to you, but the whole fair is an entirely commercial enterprise from start to finish. 

And that’s exactly why you love it so much.