Kilts, corsets, and fake-fur cat ears were in abundance at the 13th All Hallows Faire Celtic New Year’s Celebration Oct. 30 and 31 at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp.
Knights and pirates, witches and queens, skeletons, belly dancers, and unnamed supernatural beings gathered to celebrate a modern sendup of the ancient Celtic fall festival of Samhain (pronounced sa-wane) at the Mother Lode’s “original modern-themed costume play fantasy festival.”
All Hallows Faire, the creation of Patrick Karnahan and Lissa Britt, was a hybrid of multiple cultures. On Saturday, the traditional Celtic-based holiday combined with the costume madness of American Halloween culminated in the burning of the “harvest man” and a fire extravaganza by the Phoenix Fire Family. On Sunday, the fair expanded to include a celebration of the Mexican festival Día de los Muertos.
Karnahan, who also created the Celtic Faire, designed All Hallows Faire to go back to the original roots of Halloween, the second most popular holiday in America. Both events were previously held at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora but moved this year to Calaveras County.
“Having been a Celtic Irish event originally, it ties in perfectly with our Celtic Faire in March,” he said. The spring fair and autumn fair bookend the year. “I thought, let’s approach it from a more traditional standpoint with the burning of the harvest man. It’s actually more spiritual and more historically compatible with the origins of Halloween.”
“We do explore modern things,” Karnahan admitted. “One year we had all things Star Wars. We just have fun with it, for the whole family.”
The website advertised the fair as “where imagination can become your reality.” No whirling carnival rides lent heart-racing thrills; the joy was in walking through the multiverse of realities that orbited the fairgrounds.
More than 60 vendors sold Celtic and Halloween related artwork, jewelry, masks, glow sticks, and, yes, those fuzzy clip-on cat ears. Costumed jugglers spun and tossed large bobbins known as diabolos. At the Hearts of Khyber tent, musicians played Middle Eastern music while a woman in harem pants and a coin-encrusted bra danced with a 5-foot-long snake. Would-be Robin Hoods tried their aim with a bow and arrow at Renaissance Archery, while historical buffs met Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, at the pavilion of the St. Andrews Guild and Living Historical Reenactment Group.
Karnahan is a member of the Black Irish Band, with deep ties in the Celtic music community, and, naturally, there was music. San Francisco band Culann’s Hounds played souped-up Irish tunes and rowdy rebel songs, and local favorite, The Black Irish Band followed with Celtic and Americana music. Then Celtica Pipes Rocks! took the stage with flaming bagpipes as the audience watched enthralled. On Sunday, the Latin band Sonora San Jose brought cumbia and salsa to the party.
But it wasn’t all costumes and playacting. After dark on Saturday, fairgoers wrote notes on slips of paper to their lost loved ones. Those missives were placed in the “harvest man” made of woven branches. At the appointed time, the woven man and messages were set ablaze.
“It’s a celebration of the Celtic New Year,” said Karnahan. “Which is why we do the burning of the harvest man. It’s what the ancient pagans did to thank their gods for a good harvest. But it’s also like the Day of the Dead. It is the thinnest time of the year, when you can communicate with your dead loved ones.”
As the harvest man burned, the smoke carried the messages into the sky. Hopefully, it delivered them to the intended recipients. It’s hard to know if those souls were wearing costumes too.