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Bethlehem Fair Comes Back

Bethlehem Fair Comes Back

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

After a year off due to Covid, Connecticut’s agricultural affairs are back for 2021.

Mike O’Neill, President of the Bethlehem Fair Society joined the Municipal Voice, a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and 103.5 WNHH FM, to talk about this year’s Bethlehem Fair.

“In 2020, we got cancelled because of COVID,” O’Neill said, “the government stepped in and said you don’t have a choice.”

For many festivals and fairs held in Connecticut, it was the first time that they had to cancel completely since World War II or even ever. This created a kind of pent-up demand for people to get out.

The Bethlehem Fair, which was held on the first weekend after Labor Day, had one of its best years in nearly a decade.

“You kept hearing from everybody, they were just so glad to be out, able to meet people that they hadn’t seen in a long time.”

The Bethlehem Fair, like so many in Connecticut, follows the tradition of the Agricultural Fair, with attractions like livestock and produce contests.

For O’Neill, he said that you can go to a place with rides – a carnival or Quassy – but that’s not what makes the Bethlehem Fair special.

One of the biggest draws that he’s seen over the years is the woodchopping competitions, and visiting the animals is a draw for the young and old alike.
He said that he’s seeing more and more kids come to the fairs, not as a place to just hang out, but to learn more about farming as an occupation and a tradition, while also thinking about the future of farming.

To that end, the Bethlehem Fair Society awards scholarships to several students throughout the area for financial aid for students looking to advance their studies in agri-business or home economics.

Though the festival is over, O’Neill said that they were already planning for next year, as well as an extra special fair for their 100th anniversary.

“I tell everybody we gotta sit down and get serious because we know what we go through for a three-day fair every year.

“And if we want to get something over and above, it’s going to take two or three years to really put it together.”

At the end of the day, what matters is that people have a good time. O’Neill says that when people show up at 3:30, 4 o’clock, then you know that people are there to see the band. Or the big crowds for the contests. Drawing people from every corner of the state and even out of state.

“I think times when I can take a break, I’ll just park because I run around in a golf cart, and I like to watch the kids and I am still amazed at how many elderly people are coming to our fair,” O’Neill said.

“All that’s my stuff – the actual vendors and the rides and the animals, I deal with that stuff so much – but fair days, I like to sit back and just watch people enjoy the fair.”