I did not grow up attending holiday bazaars, but after thirty years in Vermont I’ve come to appreciate these local markets that seem to come with the season. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages and the German immigrants who brought the Christmas markets with them to the US – and before that to tenth century Middle Eastern bazaars.
In my small town of Brattleboro, the first weekend of December saw at least ten holiday bazaars: many were fundraisers in church basements featuring baked holiday foods and homemade crafts, and one featured holiday ornaments made by school children, introducing them to the entrepreneur possibilities of the arts.
In an old renovated mill, a three-story open studio featured the products of Vermont and the small businesses who make them, encouraging visitors to buy local handmade chocolates, granola, goat milk caramels, woven scarfs, pottery, and hand-blown glass, all crafted by area artisans. Dance and music performances enhanced the ambiance and fresh coffee and crepes kept visitors and shoppers going.
I spent one day volunteering for a bazaar to benefit our non-profit area hospice, a two-day affair held in the light-filled Atrium of a renovated downtown building. Second-hand goods were displayed artfully, ranging from books and gloves to fake fur stoles and holiday ornaments to vintage handbags, jewelry and postcards that used to cost one cent to mail. Even two richly decorated Christmas trees were on sale, donated by the local tree farm.
There’s joy in the faces of those who attend these bazaars. People circle the display tables looking for bargains or a unique gift for someone special. They try on a hat and model it for their friends; a child finds a toy so affordable she can pay for it herself; a father discovers a forgotten story book he read when he was a boy to in turn read to his son. And all this happens because many community members donate, volunteer, bake, set up, administer, and close down these marvelous events.
Vermont holiday bazaars serve as more than fundraisers and outreach for good causes. They provide an opportunity for neighbors to reconnect and a place for strangers to gather with others in simple joy and camaraderie. I can’t wait for the next one.