The City of Winfield’s Mule Day was always a big event in my youth. My sister, brother, and my mother would usually all go to downtown Winfield and get our faces painted, eat funnel cakes, and wins tons of toys. We would walk to my grandmother’s house and have dinner and drink stale Coke while avoiding the whiffs of Marlboro smoke, all while the adults talked about the things adults talked about back then.
As I got older, it became a night to not only get out of the house, but to see who was dating who, who was hanging out with who, and, eventually, a time to sneak away with friends for parties and other nefarious doings.
I was never interested in the carnival rides or the cheap games. But the hustle of being around so many people, surrounded by neon lights and dirt, was the best time to geek out and flex my photographer muscles.
But eventually, as all things do, it became less and less important and slowly became an event that I no longer looked forward to. My mind became occupied with escaping that small town and the celebrations and festivals there lost their significance to me.
However, as it turns out, a town not so far from Florence has its own Mule Day celebration, and it’s bigger and better than ever. On March 27 – April 2, thousands of people will descend upon Columbia to celebrate all things Mule, local, and southern.
According to the Columbia, Tennessee Mule Day website, it is an annual celebration of all things related to mules and is held in Columbia, Tennessee, the “Mule Capital” of the world. Beginning in 1840 as “Breeder’s Day”, a meeting for mule breeders, it now attracts more than 200,000 people and takes place over four days. In addition to mules, traditional Appalachian food, music, dancing, and crafts are featured.
“Mule Day” has been a popular Columbia tradition for nearly 170 years, since the 1840s. It began as “Breeder’s Day”, a single day livestock show and mule market event held on the first Monday in April. Over time, “Mule Day” evolved from a single day event into a multi-day festival, attracting thousands of attendees, lasting almost a week. The heavy involvement of Maury County in the mule industry has caused the event to grow over time into “one of the largest livestock markets in the world.”
If you visit during Mule Day celebrations, you might see a square dance, a mule-driving contest, a horse show, a crafts festival, or attend a flea market. Other events include “working mule”, “best of breed”, or even lumberjack competitions. Food served at the event includes barbecue, roasted corn, home-made pies and funnel cakes.
Since 1934, the festival has been highlighted by a “Mule Day Parade” held on Saturday during the celebration. Floats in the parade compete, with winners in each judged category receiving awards such as ribbons or money.
Now, who doesn’t love an old fashioned southern beauty pageant? There’s talent, beauty, drama, and big, big hair! The Mule Day Queen serves an integral role in the Tennessee state legislature, as they present the importance of the event within the community to the Tennessee General Assembly and legislators therein.
The contest for the Mule Day Queen is also held on Saturday. The competition is open to contestants age 15 to 21. The winner is selected based on an essay and other criteria.
The annual mule pull contest requires a pair of mules to pull a sled loaded with cinder blocks 10 feet. Each pair is given 3 tries to make it the full 10 feet. The team that pulls the most weight wins.
Over the years, Columbia’s Mule Day has obviously turned into a huge celebration, garnering national attention and the attention of local movers and shakers.
There’s a common tradition of residents hosting house parties as the night goes on, and people from all over are invited to hop from house to house to celebrate each other’s company.
Here are just a few things going on during Mule Day for you to get hyped about: wagon trains, arts and crafts festival and flea market, mule shows, ranging from a mule pulling championship all the way to a riding mule show.
Of course, there’ll most likely be fried Oreos.
Columbia, Tennessee’s Mule Day will take place March 27 – April 2, 2017. Oh, and be on the lookout for that Listerhill logo and tent for some help along the way.