Opening ceremony

Location Town hall or nearby
Frequency Annual
Duration 30 minutes
Seasonal Yes
Physical Scale Medium
Experiential Scale Medium
Geographical Scale National

Opening Ceremonies are a formal, celebratory occasion when representatives of the various institutions involved in a fair gather in public to pronounce the fair open.

Opening Ceremonies occur near, but not always at, the start of a fair. They are sometimes held during the first evening, or the morning of the first full day of a fair.

With little exception, they involve a ‘civic party’ made up of the same kinds of characters (holders of high office, dressed in their ceremonial robes: Council Officials and Mayor, representatives of the Regional Sections of the Showmen’s Guild (SGGB), as well as local school children, and so on), and the same processes (the reading of the Fair’s Charter, testimonies about how well all parties get along, jokes about the weather), and some specific token or fetish (a ceremonial mace, a bell or set of bells, and so on).

In some fairs, the exact location of the Ceremony changes, but these changes are prescribed and follow a set pattern. Whether static or changeable, the ceremony usually involves a local Town Hall or similar building.

Opening Ceremonies foreground what the Annales School refer to as the longue durée, those all-but-permanent or slowly evolving aspects of something that are deliberately repeated in these rituals. In addition to the unchanging nature of the Ceremonies themselves, the way they are reported is also very formulaic, especially in The World’s Fair, the weekly newspaper for the travelling showmen’s community.

Despite the continuity, tradition and solidarity demonstrated so deliberately in these Ceremonies, they bring together a number of different groups with very different interests in the Fair and very different capacities to assert control over the broader fair environment. Mis-quoting Janet Carsten and Stephen Hugh-Jones (About the House: Lévi-Strauss and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1995), we could venture regarding the architecture of the fairground, and the Opening Ceremony in particular, ‘its architectural form can serve to obscure the interests of the various agencies and groups that converge and commit to the “Fair” even as its conflicted nature makes it productive and enduring.’

Victor Turner argues for the importance that such ceremonies and rites play within a society, thanks to the cultural forms they produce (myths, rituals, works of art etc):

‘These cultural forms provide men with a set of templates or models which are, at one level, periodical reclassifications of reality and man’s relationship to society, nature, and culture. But they are more than classifications, since they incite men to action as well as to thought. Each of these productions has a multivocal character, and each is capable of moving people at many psychological and biological levels.’ (The Ritual Process : Structure and Anti-Structure. [1969] New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995, pp.128–9)