Expanding festival delivers spirit of the season


Hannah Finnoti

The 24th Annual Holiday CircleFest took place over Dec. 2 and 3.

Marking the continued development of the University Circle neighborhood, the upgraded 24th Annual Holiday CircleFest took place at Wade Oval on Dec. 2 and 3. This year, the Holiday CircleFest expanded, lasting for two days rather one, and included a market venue for any interested party to sell its products.

Attracting a respectable turnout of families and local hipsters in Christmas sweaters, most likely trying to convince themselves they were at an Instagram-worthy Viennese Christmas market, the Holiday CircleFest featured a range of charming Christmas classics: photo ops with Santa, horse-drawn carriage rides, a skating rink and hot chocolate. Adding old-school, holiday ambience was the live music provided by The Chardon Polka Band.

One of the CircleFest’s most striking aspects was the prevalence of local performers and artisans, speaking to the regenerated sense of community and pride in Cleveland. After all, Cleveland was just ranked fourteenth on National Geographic’s list of 21 places to visit in 2018 due to the city’s recent revival and thriving theater district. Contributing to the Holiday CircleFest’s community atmosphere was the surprisingly low price of merchandise, food and entertainment, with access to the ice-skating rink costing a mere $2.00. The free-of-cost diversions, from carriage rides to music, suggests that the neighborhood is seeking to follow the example of larger cities with similar public events. The idea is to attract tourists as well as locals, establishing the city as one worthy of national attention.

Given that this was the first year the Holiday CircleFest included market stalls, many local artisans took this opportunity to sell their original works, from jewelry to vegan soap, in an effort to gain recognition. Evidenced by the nearby Montessori High School students selling their own artwork and a memorable stall featuring chocolate desserts made from bacon, this easy access to a market venue allowed for homegrown creativity and individualism. On a deeper note, Not Wasted, an Akron-based non-profit organization aiding previously incarcerated or substance-addicted women by helping them upcycle and sell materials, took the opportunity to raise awareness about more serious issues.

Beyond the CircleFest events at Wade Oval, University Circle was enlivened by varied forms of entertainment as local institutions such as The Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Botanical Garden presented artistic exhibitions and performances, as well as interactive crafts workshops. All the while, of course, they remembered to sell one-of-a-kind holiday gifts.
Although the expansion of the Holiday CircleFest is a sign of Cleveland developing its own culture by creating new customs and expanding on old traditions, the CircleFest has not yet become an event capable of drawing large crowds. Despite the presence of roughly fifteen vendors, multiple stalls at the end of the row remained empty with signs marking their availability for anyone to use them, a reminder that the market aspect of the CircleFest is at an early stage. However, with increased attractions, advertising and attendance, the Holiday Circlefest could transform itself into a beloved fixture of Cleveland’s holiday season.