I grew up in a small town located 12 miles from East Lansing named Dewitt. The town has approximately 5000 people and each August a festival is held in the downtown called the Ox Roast. The Ox Roast is held over a three-day weekend in the four blocks that encompass the entirety of downtown Dewitt. The event was started to raise money for a community center in 1945 but has grown into a festival intended to stress community togetherness and showcase the work that individuals are doing. During the weekend, a carnival company comes into town and takes over one of the city blocks with rides aimed at children. On the other three blocks, there are local businesses selling merchandise and a music venue is put up to showcase local musicians. It is safe to say that at least 80% of the town attends at least on the days. The town Board of Trustees makes speeches about the town and what is happening to improve life. The mayor leads the parade every year which is filled with all of the municipal services and local sports teams and organizations. The purpose of the event is mostly to celebrate the local businesses that helped build the town community center so two of the blocks are filled with kiosks of local businesses selling all manner of products. This festival would mostly fall under the Rites of Intensification ritual as its intention is to grow the bond within the community. With only about 5000 people, all long term residents seem to know one another in some capacity. There is are ceremonies like the pie eating contest and the craft shows bring out happy moods in townspeople and attendees.
To answer the question why the festival started, you would need to look at the town in 1945. There was no community center and the town was made up mostly of farmers. Mrs. Earl Pierson went about organizing the first Ox Roast to draw in the townspeople to help build a community center. Since the building of the community center the reason for the ritual is to maintain a sense of town togetherness that many small towns have. Ox Roast is not much different from the other types of festivals that other small Midwest towns have, but it feels special every year for the children of the town whose parents can be entertained by the music and the beer tent while the kids ride carnival roller coasters. The Ox Roast does follow Van Gennup’s three ritual stages over the week or so that the festival is held. The separation from normal small town life is started by driving past the fire station and seeing all of the rides and carnies park there for the weekdays before the ritual. The roads are closed down Thursday afternoon to let everyone know that is this is no normal weekend in downtown. The Liminal stage is signified by the bands playing music during the days and the t-shirts that are distributed to volunteers and children which are all bright colors and a list of sponsors on the back. Police officers will shed their normal blue uniforms for shorts and bright shirts and police vests. After all the events and announcements have been made, the event closes on Saturday night at 11pm. I lived a block from downtown in my youth and we would always know that reintegration would begin immediately. By Sunday morning at 8 am. Everything had been packed up and taken away, probably to the next small town ritual. Life would return back to normal and the only sign that the weekend had been any different than the rest was the banner on the outside of downtown reminding all outsiders that our yearly festival had taken place, and we were stronger as a community for it.
My Questions are about everyone else’s small towns: If you did grow up in a small town, did you have any similar town-wide festivals each year? I am also curious to talk to someone in the city office about my next question. How much does it cost the city to put on the Ox Roast each year and how much money is made over the weekend?