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A fair (archaic: faire or fayre) is a gathering of people for a variety of entertainment or commercial activities. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary with scheduled times lasting from an afternoon to several weeks.
Variations of fairs from generally smallest or biggest include:
The Roman fairs were holidays on which there was an intermission of labour and pleadings.[clarification needed] In the Roman provinces of Judea and Syria Palaestina, Jewish rabbis prohibited Jews from participating in fairs in certain towns because the religious nature of the fairs contravened the prescribed practice of Judaism.
In the Middle Ages, many fairs developed as temporary markets and were especially important for long-distance and international trade, as wholesale traders travelled, sometimes for many days, to fairs where they could be sure to meet those they needed to buy from or sell to. Fairs were usually tied to special Christian religious occasions, such as the Saint's day of the local church. Stagshaw in England, is documented to have held annual fairs as early as 1293 consisting of the sales of animals. Along with the main fair held on 4 July, the city also hosted smaller fairs throughout the year where specific types of animals were sold, such as one for horses, one for lambs, and one for ewes.
The Kumbh Mela, held every twelve years, at Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain is one of the largest fairs in India, where more than 60 million people gathered in January 2001, making it the largest gathering anywhere in the world. Kumbha means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Sanskrit.
In the United States, fairs draw in as many as 150 million people each summer. Children's competitions at an American fair range from breeding small animals to robotics, whilst the organization 4-H has become a traditional association.
Fairs attracted great numbers of people and they often resulted in public order issues and sometimes riots. The holding of fairs was, therefore, granted by royal charter. Initially they were only allowed in towns and places where order could be maintained due to the presence of a bishop, sheriff or governor. Later various benefits were granted to specific fairs, such as the granting of a holiday status to a fair or protections against arrest for specific laws for the duration of the fair. Officials were authorised to mete out justice to those who attended their fair; this led to even the smallest fair having a court to adjudicate on offences and disputes arising within the fairground. These courts were called a pye powder court (from Old French pieds pouldres, literally "dusty feet", meaning an itinerant trader, from Medieval Latin pedes pulverosi).
The chaotic nature of the Stagshaw Bank Fair with masses of people and animals and stalls inspired the Newcastle colloquialism "like a Stagey Bank Fair" to describe a general mess.