I attended my first Bagel Festival last week. The first such fest was in 1986, right after Lender's Bagels opened a factory here in Mattoon. When the company announced (in 1984) that it would be producing bagels in central Illinois, folks eager for jobs called corporate headquarters to get on the wait list. According to legend, most job seekers would end the phone call with a question: "What's a bagel?" So, in 1985, the Lenders' people held a breakfast and introduced themselves to Mattoon by handing out free bagels. And the first Bagelfest was held a year later, now grown to attract more than 40,000 people annually.
You can forgive Mattoon folks for being bagel-illiterate at first. The bagel was invented sometime in the 1600s by Polish Jews, and was a mainstay of that cultural cuisine. But since we only have three Polish Jews in town, and they won't tell the rest of the town who they are, we've had to educate ourselves. The Vice President of Lenders, however, now says that Mattoon is one of the most bagel savvy towns in the world.
I don't know what that means, but it makes me feel proud, nonetheless.
The Lender's factory here happens to be the largest bagel factory in the world. Some nights when I am driving home, I can smell the blueberry bagels. And our bagel festival is the world's largest bagel extravaganza: featuring parades, beauty contests, music, bingo, carnival rides, and a free bagel breakfast.
I'm sorry I missed the free breakfast. But Jie and I did make it to the free parade. And we took our own lawn chairs and sat in the free section of the Saturday night concert. And Jie was an "economical" date that night since neither of us wanted to ride the Carnival attractions or eat the food the venders were peddling.
You may have noticed by this point that I didn't spend any money at the festival. This may be why the "festival gods" sent 40 fleas to bite me at the concert, then sent Jie and me rushing home through a pounding rain an hour before the music was over.
But I can now add Mattoon's Bagelfest to the list of festivals in towns where I have served churches. In Urbana, it was 15 years of the annual Sweet Corn Festival. When I was in Glen Carbon, it was 13 years of the Glenfest. (Unlike a bagel or an ear of corn, one cannot eat a "glen.")
My four years in Granite City, however, were fest-less. If the bishop ever sends me back there, I think I'll start a fest. Granite could use a little cheering up. I also spent three years in Carbondale, where there is no need for a fest, as it is home to Southern Illinois University, one of the nation's leading party schools...and the fest there never ends.
I served a church in Carmi for two years. Of all the towns where I have appointed, Carmi offered the least recreational activity. So its Corn Fest was a BIG DEAL. While living in Carmi, we got acquainted with other festivals in the region, looking for something to do. This is how I became acquainted with the
"Mulefest" in Enfield and the "Popcorn Festival" in Ridgeway.
There is only one other Bagelfest in the world: a 2013 upstart in Monticello, New York. They are trying to claim that they
the bagel, but nobody is buying that. The corn festivals of Urbana and Carmi are hardly unique, as the nation has corn festivals coming out the ear. And Ridgeway's Popcorn Festival is not the largest in the country: that honor belongs to
Marion, Ohio, where a quarter of a million people a year show up for their Labor Day extravaganza. Marion's popcorn festival has been declared among the "Top 100 Events in North America" by the American Bus Association.
I've never heard of the American Bus Association.
One would think that the Mulefest in Enfield, Illinois is probably the world's biggest Mulefest; but no; it turns out that Clark County in Missouri has one too. The Clark county Mulefest appears to be slightly more exciting than its Enfield counterpart, offering mule trail riding, goat calling, and a Sunday morning church service led by the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys. I haven't heard of them either.
It also turns out that Columbia, Tennessee holds a mule festival every April. And if we're not at war with Canada at this time next year, you may want to mosey up to Edmonton, Alberta and have a go at their mule festival. But call before you go, as the internet news on that one is a little shakey.
Despite my long pastoral career, however, there are some festivals I've missed. After all, the bishop can't send me everywhere.
Even though I served several churches in West Virginia, I did not serve in Marlinton, where they hold an annual Roadkill Cookoff Festival. New Orleans hosts the "San Fermin Festival," modeled after the San Fermin "running of the bulls" in Spain. But in New Orleans, you are chased by Roller Derby girls, not bulls. Wayne, Nebraska, has a chicken festival, which features a chicken dance. Crystal Fall, Michigan hosts the Humungus Fungus Fest, featuring the largest mushroom pizza in the world. Avon, Ohio has their "Duct Tape Festival," and Coarsegold, California has their "Tarantula Awareness Festival."
Clute, Texas holds a "Mosquito Festival."
An annual Amtrak Mooning Festival (yes, they moon an Amtrak train) is held in Laguna Niguel, California. And finally, numerous towns hold Testicle Festivals, including Byron, Illinois, (turkey testicles) Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Clinton, Montana. The Montana event has a contest to see who can eat the most bull privates in four minutes. I think I'll just stick to melon balls. A guy has to do what a guy has to do.
I'm a little worried about that passage of scripture from Amos 5, where the Lord sends this message, "I hate, I despise your festivals."
But I'm pretty sure he's not getting worked up about the Bagelfest. Granted, the Lord probably frowns on all the tooth decay that results from the sugary candy thrown out by parade participants. But the rest of the festival probably doesn't offend the divine mind. I don't even think it matters much to the Lord one way or the other about the festivals in Laguna Niguel or Clinton.
It was the religious festivals that honked God off: Those occasions when people perpetrated injustices and violences...and then sugar-coated the offenses with religious pageantry.
So, while the summer lasts, I aim to enjoy the community celebrations, whether I attend them or hear about them. But when Christmas and Easter roll around again, I need to be paying attention to what the God of justice and mercy demands, not what will win me an award from the American Bus Association. --Mike