Ohio Renfest – A Family Day at the Faire

The Gasser family dressed for Highlands weekend: Ethan (senior at Pickerington Central), Chris, Clarissa, G.G. (first grader at Pickerington Elementary) and the author Ana (sophomore at Central).

October 242021
by Ana Gasser & the Holiday Hooligans

The Ohio Renaissance Festival has been an important tradition in my family for a few years now. We all pile into the truck, clothed in our best attempt at period dress, and drive towards Cincinnati. This year, we were joined by the Hooligans.

Every weekend has its own theme, from pirates to time travelers to Vikings. We went on Highland weekend, and got decked out in all manner of plaid. The faire opens at 10:30 in the morning, and lasts until 7:00 in the evening. Although that seems like a long period of time, hustling may be required if you want to experience everything the festival has to offer.

We arrived around one, and started walking the route. The faire is built in almost a circle, allowing you to meander your way through and end where you started. Along the way are over 150 shops filled with a variety of items from artisans and craftspeople, 43 different shows, battlegrounds for human chess, and a field for the joust. We were able to see a good deal of shops before taking a break to watch Judas and Magnolia, an escape artist and singer duo who perform on the set of a pirate ship. The show was engaging and funny, and after approaching them after the show we discovered that the couple are down-to-earth and very kind.

We continued on our way, purchasing elf ears, leather gauntlets, sealing wax, stained glass lanterns, quills, jewelry, spell and potion flasks, and a number of assorted objects that struck our fancy. Some of the prices initially seem high, but what I would encourage readers to understand is that these are quality, handmade products made by artisans who have devoted their lives to their crafts. They are not mass manufactured and sold solely for profit. The people who work at the Renaissance Faire do so because they genuinely love it.

Tucked behind Poet’s Crossing is the field of games, where a good deal of time and money can be spent.  We engaged in a brief bout of jousting, threw hatchets, knives, throwing stars, and stared wistfully at the long lines for archery. There are also climbing towers, ladders, huge swinging Viking ships, and the Kamikaze Fireflies show, which is primarily a series of impressive stunts. We grabbed some food and toured the Dungeon of Doom, a museum of medieval torture which may not be suitable for the miniature ladies and lords. We left around seven, our hearts much fuller and our wallets much lighter. 

Soreena the Silly, half of the acrobatic duo the High Flying Fools performs.

We have a few words of advice for anyone planning on attending. Parking is three dollars (cash only), and getting in and out can be a bit of a hassle. On some weekends visitors have said that they waited in traffic for hours just to park, but we didn’t have that problem. There is no outside food or drink allowed, but water will run you $3.00, and food is not cheap either. Food and beverages are sold at separate places, so split your party to stand in both lines. Also, if you have dietary restrictions it may be somewhat difficult to find food that will cater to your needs.

Most shops take credit, but I would suggest bringing cash. There are ATMs, but might as well save yourself the handling fee.

From Pickerington, the majority of the trip is just south on I-71. The travel time is about an hour and a half, but it’s well worth it. There is no Wi-Fi at the festival, and cell service can be spotty. Make sure you have a way to get in touch with your group, as it is very easy to get lost or separated. Ultimately, my biggest advice is to walk through once, and then go back and buy your items. If you’re anything like me, you are going to want everything. Budgeting is important if you want to leave the faire without a completely depleted bank account, or see items down the road that you desperately want, but can’t get as you have already spent too much.

Ethan and Ana engage in a joust. Photo by Clarissa Gasser

I was initially planning on ending the article here. But I realized that I hadn’t really captured the brilliance of RenFest. It’s tricky, and very difficult to describe why I love the faire so much, and why it holds such a special place in my heart. I think it comes down to the fact that the world can be a really unpleasant place sometimes. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, a lot of people are struggling financially, and it can be overwhelming just to go through your day. Those problems don’t go away when you walk into the fairgrounds. The virus doesn’t disappear, you don’t stop worrying, and the world is still scary. But those problems feel a little less important. You remember that everything scary and overwhelming and frustrating isn’t what life is, it’s just a part of it.

As someone who has struggled with the harsher parts of life, it’s easy to forget that there is always more. It’s easy to forget how much you genuinely love the world around you and the feeling of being alive. The festival lets life be more beautiful, more colorful, more recklessly and unabashedly joyful. You can dance wildly without fear of judgement, wear whatever silly outfit you want to, and free the part of yourself that hides in your brain in a file labeled “Not acceptable.” The festival isn’t a different world, it’s just a better one. And when you embrace the magic and let yourself be a child again, it’s brilliant.

Hooligan Zoey Moore enjoys a Dole Whip. The whipped treat alone costs $7.00 or you can pay $12.00 to have the Dole Whip in its plastic cup be placed inside a pineapple.

The former theatre kids in woolen breeches aren’t cast working street, they’re the humble peasants of this village. The older man with a bit of turkey leg in his beard isn’t an employee, he’s a shopkeep peddling his fine wares for your journey. And you and your friends aren’t a gaggle of awkward teenagers taking a break from D&D to be elated you’ve found a world where you fit in, you’re noble adventurers enjoying the festivities of an idyllic town before you return to the business of slaying monsters.

I’ve been to a lot of events and conventions, and I’ve always just felt like an attendee in the midst of an event in which I play no role. The faire feels like it is a world built from my imagination, and I am the main character. As if I’ve taken a fantasy novel, and placed myself into the hero’s role. I love my family and friends dearly, and I enjoy attending with them. But parts of the faire exist tucked away within my heart as solely mine. 

Every time I find the macabre store where the pixie who works there leans out and yells “We sell dead things!” And the dapper gentleman at the soaps and oils store next door calls in response, “We cover up the smell!” Every year, I find a tavern with live music and stomp my feet in time with the rest of the patrons, until we’re all giddy with the feeling of community and the simple bonds between strangers.

And the one closest to my heart, is the pebble fairy. I’m not sure they even work at the faire, but they’re there every time I go. I look for a swoopy haired figure with intricate wings, and approach them. They never speak a word, and it’s possible they can’t. But they size you up, and reach into one of the many satchels at their belt, and press a pebble into your palm. The pebbles are strangely beautiful. I still have every one I have ever received, kept in a small wooden box in my bedroom. It’s an almost private thing, and to me those small moments that celebrate humanity are what Renfest is to me.

Sure, the festival is bright and loud and energetic. But when I walk through those castle gates, it feels like coming home. 

The Ohio Renaissance Festival is held every weekend from Labor Day weekend through Halloween from 10:30 am to 7:00 pm at the 10542 East State Route 73, Waynesville, Ohio 45068. Daily tickets are $25.00 per adult (ages 13 and older), $10.00 for children ages 5 to 12, and children ages 4 and younger are free. Season passes may be purchased for $60.00. You may purchase tickets online or at the ticket counter outside the castle walls.