A row of Dungeness crabs in a display case
A row of Dungeness crabs in a display case

Fall Festivals Matter Now More Than Ever

Paul Kiernan

This past weekend in my newly adopted hometown of Port Angeles, Washington, there was the annual Crab Festival.

This past weekend in my newly adopted hometown of Port Angeles, Washington, there was the annual Crab Festival. Each year the town comes alive with food vendors, craftspeople, kids, families, and a lot of really great dogs. And, of course, barrels and buckets, pots, and plates filled with large, fresh Dungeness crabs.

The downtown area, which sits next to the harbor and looks out across the water to the Coast Guard Station on a strip of land known here as the spit, was packed with locals and tourists alike. Although the festival has a very small-town feeling, it is actually known nationally and people come from great distances to enjoy time here.

As I sat at one end of a long, newspaper-covered table, tiny mallet in one hand, teeny fork in the other, feasting on the succulent meat of a couple of huge Dungeness crabs I was joined by an older couple who had traveled to town from Maryland.

“We love coming here,” Andrew, the older gent, told me, “both me and Ernie (his wife’s name is Earnestine, and she is called, far and wide, Earnie) love the blue crab back home, but we look forward to coming here once a year to have this great Dungeness crab.”

Dungeness crab, if you're not familiar, is bigger than blue crab and has more meat in the claws and the body. It is a delightful sea creature, and the flavor is worth traveling across the country for, at least for Andrew and Earnie.

We chatted about how sad they were when the festival was canceled because of COVID and how they couldn’t wait to get back. Between whacks of our mallets and brief pauses to suck the sweet delights from our crustacean feast, they told me it was the crab, of course, but the journey, the people, and the feeling they missed. Andrew told me that the drive, they traveled in their silverAirstream, was great, and the chance to stop and see the country and talk to people was what they looked forward to each year.

“We’re all here for one thing,” Andrew said, squeezing a lemon slice over the body of a crab, “fresh food and friendship. You can put politics and anger and whatever away for a few hours and just enjoy being alive among others enjoying being alive.”

To some, that may have been too simple a thought, but looking around the dock, seeing the masses gathered, eating, laughing, and enjoying the incredible weather, there was a feeling that Andrew was right.

Why Festivals Matter

We, humanity, have gone through a very traumatic time. If you remove all the crap about masks being a political statement and the finger-pointing of who did what and who didn’t, you realize that the whole world went through a great deal together. We all lost loved ones, we all faced uncertainty, some lost jobs, others lost the ability to cope. But the whole planet went through this together.

We are slowly coming out of it. A new strain of the disease is rearing its hideous head, and masks are seen in supermarkets and drug stores again, but most professionals say we’re beyond the horror that first held us all in check. We have vaccines and more information to keep us healthy and alive. So, despite this new strain, we are relatively back to normal.

Part of being normal is being in and among people. We are pack animals by nature, and we need to be in our packs. We need to be in masses listening to music, watching dance and theater, seeing art, and, of course, eating crab.

Our natural instincts, which were curtailed by the pandemic, are returning with vigor and passion, and we should indulge those feelings. We should be cautious, but we should get back out and be in and among each other again.

an old pickup truck with pumpkins on the fenders in front of corn stalks and hanging lights

Fall Festivals

As we slough off the challenging times brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of post-pandemic fall festivals cannot be overstated. These vibrant celebrations of culture, community, and the changing seasons take on renewed significance in a world seeking healing, connection, and a return to normalcy. Let’s take a moment and explore why post-pandemic fall festivals are essential, not only for their role in fostering a sense of togetherness but also for their economic, cultural, and emotional impact on individuals and communities.

Fostering a Sense of Community

One of the most profound reasons for the significance of post-pandemic fall festivals is their ability to foster a sense of community. During the pandemic, social distancing measures and lockdowns forced people into isolation, leaving many feeling disconnected from their neighbors and friends. Fall festivals, with their communal activities and shared experiences, provide a much-needed opportunity for people to come together once again.

These festivals serve as a reminder that we are part of something larger, a community that celebrates life, tradition, and the passing of seasons. Whether it's the joy of carving pumpkins, sharing a meal, or participating in local parades, these events create a sense of belonging and unity, helping to rebuild the social fabric that was frayed by the pandemic.

Supporting Local Economies

Post-pandemic, many local businesses and artisans are still struggling to recover from the economic hardships imposed by lockdowns and reduced consumer spending. Fall festivals play a vital role in supporting these local economies. Vendors, farmers, crafters, fishermen, and food producers often rely on these festivals as a significant source of income. By attending these events, visitors not only enjoy a fun day out but also contribute to the economic recovery of their communities.

Moreover, these festivals draw in visitors from neighboring areas, boosting tourism and indirectly supporting local businesses like hotels, restaurants, and shops. The economic ripple effect of fall festivals can help revitalize communities that have faced financial setbacks during the pandemic.

Celebrating Cultural Heritage

Fall festivals are rich with cultural traditions that have been passed down through generations. These events provide a platform to showcase and celebrate the diverse heritages that make up our communities. From Oktoberfests honoring German heritage to Dia de los Muertos celebrations highlighting Mexican culture, fall festivals offer a window into the tapestry of human history.

In a post-pandemic world, the appreciation of cultural diversity is more important than ever. These festivals promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, helping to break down barriers and build connections between different ethnic and cultural groups. By attending these events, people have the opportunity to learn about and celebrate the traditions, art, music, and food of their fellow community members.

In my new hometown, there were great displays of indigenous art. Beautiful hand-crafted clothing and carvings by First Nation people helped remind us of what was here before we came and what will remain after we’re gone.

Promoting Mental Well-Being

The mental health toll of the pandemic has been significant. Many people have experienced heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Fall festivals offer a welcome respite, providing a safe and joyful environment where individuals can relax, unwind, and rejuvenate their spirits.

The simple act of being outdoors, surrounded by the vibrant colors of autumn, can have a therapeutic effect on the mind. Moreover, the camaraderie and laughter shared at these events can boost serotonin levels, improving overall well-being. For those who have experienced the loss of loved ones during the pandemic, fall festivals can also serve as a way to remember and honor their memories in a supportive community setting.

Teaching Sustainability

As the world grapples with environmental challenges, fall festivals can serve as important platforms for promoting sustainability. Many festivals incorporate eco-friendly practices, such as composting, recycling, and encouraging the use of reusable materials. Additionally, these events often highlight local agriculture and emphasize the importance of sustainable farming practices.

Through educational exhibits and workshops, attendees can learn about the importance of preserving natural resources and reducing their ecological footprint. Fall festivals inspire individuals to connect with nature and make more environmentally conscious choices in their daily lives, contributing to a healthier planet.

Renewed Appreciation for Seasons

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our lives in unprecedented ways, causing many to reevaluate their priorities and reflect on the things that truly matter. Fall festivals offer an opportunity to reconnect with nature and appreciate the cyclical nature of life and seasons. The changing leaves, crisp air, and harvest abundance remind us of the beauty of the world around us.

After a year of uncertainty and turmoil, these festivals serve as a symbol of resilience and hope. They remind us that life goes on, and as we gather to celebrate the harvest, we also celebrate our ability to adapt, endure, and thrive even in the face of adversity.

A woman in elaborate Day of the Dead make up standing in blue and red smoke

In the End

Post-pandemic fall festivals are more important than ever, as they provide a vital space for communities to heal, come together, and rebuild. These celebrations support local economies, celebrate cultural diversity, promote mental well-being, teach sustainability, and renew our appreciation for the changing seasons. As we emerge from a challenging period in history, fall festivals stand as beacons of hope, reminding us of our shared humanity and our capacity to find joy and connection in even the simplest of traditions.

I said goodbye to Andrew and Earnie and carried my pile of crab remains to the trash. I marveled at how blue the sea was, how clear the sky and how many people were lining up for food and just enjoying being among people again. It was a lovely festival, and I was so thankful that it was happening again after the brief sabbatical.

So, look in the paper, listen to the radio, watch TV, and find out when the next fall festival is happening near you. Yes, as you saw above, there are great cultural, economic, and educational reasons why these festivals are vital to our towns and communities. But the simple fact is, being outside by the ocean, eating delicious foods, hearing great music, seeing incredible art, and meeting new people, all while wearing a hat that is two giant crab claws on springs, just makes you feel more connected and more alive.

Get out and enjoy some fall festivities!