HAGIOAICA, Romania (AP) — It’s a festival of joy that offers an escape from everyday hardships for some of Romania’s poorest residents.
The traditional autumn fair is again drawing huge crowds of visitors in the eastern European country after the event was suspended during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
The fair near the central city of Titu, northwest of the capital of Bucharest, has existed for nearly 200 years — a testimony to its importance to the community.
And though much has changed since the 19th century, when autumn fairs like the Titu Fair were the sole public events in rural Romania, the purpose of the tradition — bringing the local community together — has remained the same.
Over the weekend, visitors flocked to the fairground, set up in a field in the small village of Hagioaica outside Titu, hungry for entertainment — smiling children clutched toys, men swirled on merry-go-rounds and families mingled.
Deafening music blared from the fairground as amusement park lights flashed, drawing smiles on people’s faces.
Carousels offered rides on pirate ships, white horses or huge pumpkins; wide-eyed children immersed themselves in a world of imagination and play as they rode in circles.
Overwhelmed, a baby boy fell asleep in his mother’s arms. Older children, however, wouldn’t miss a thing, from Spider-Man balloons to huge inflated playgrounds.
Typically, there were also strength-testing punching balls or target shooting to win stuffed animals.
For many, the fair was a chance to earn and save money — some residents set up stalls to sell toys and other goods, while others stocked up on supplies of vegetables and other household items for the upcoming winter.
Though prices are lower than in stores, fair visitors said they have spiked since the pandemic and the start of the war in Ukraine, one of Romania’s neighbors.
A European Union member state, Romania has come a long way in boosting its economy in comparison to the post-Soviet transition era, but many among its 19 million people still struggle to make ends meet.
Associated Press writer Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.
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