Why I Love Arts and Farmers’ Markets During the Holiday Season

Photos with the Grinch and his Who buddy and Santa Deadpool were just one way we got in the holiday spirit at a local Christmas market. Image: Rick Tate

I like to hit the farmers’ and artisan markets in our area whenever I can, but when the holiday season rolls around, these turn into “Christmas,” “Winter,” or “Holiday” Marketplaces with an entirely new, sometimes magical atmosphere.

With the gift-giving season in full swing, here are some of my favorite reasons to visit a local Christmas or holiday market event before the year is over.

They support small, local artists and vendors.

We hear all the time how important it is to keep “your dollars in your community.” That’s not always easy to do when it is so much simpler to purchase gift items over the Internet any time of day, or stop into a large retail franchise that seems to have tons of choices. If you swing by an arts market, especially during the holidays, the choices are creative, handmade, and often locally produced.

We’ve purchased everything from your “grandma and grandpa” made jellies and treats to some incredible pieces from local artists of all kinds. For us, Christmas isn’t the time to give the “big gift,” but instead to find smaller, fun items that just let people know we’re thinking of them during the holidays. If you’ve drawn a blank on a gift for someone, strolling around a market will give you some ideas you haven’t thought of before.

They are idea factories.

I fully confess to the “beg, borrow, steal” method of amassing inspiration for a DIY project, and it is always mind-blowing to see what some people can think up at these marketplaces.

I don’t try to mimic ideas directly, but there are plenty of times I’ve looked at some items and thought “what an incredible idea” or “that’s so much cooler than what I came up with.”

I’ve gone to some school and church markets where the items are pretty traditional and thought of how I might try to infuse these with some pop culture fun. For example, this year, I purchased a little wooden cross for my mother-in-law decorated with seeds, chile stems, and leaves from regional farms. At a more arts-centric event on our downtown museum district, there was a man who made small outdoor stoves from upcycled commercial fire extinguishers.

One of the “punk rock flea markets” I went to this season included an artist who made weird party jewelry out of old Lalaloopsy and Hello Kitty figures that looked like something right out of the Tokyo street fashion scene.

I don’t want to make money off someone else’s idea, but I’m not above trying a few ideas out at home and adding my own twists. Even if you’re not looking to purchase anything, anyone with a creative mind (we all have to some extent) will leave with a head full of project ideas.

There’s almost always a photo op.

Especially during the holidays, the arts markets can be colorful environments full of eye-candy. There’s sparkly greenery if you need a place to take that “holiday letter photo,” and often you’ll see the obligatory Santa.

However, there are a lot of edgy, geekier marketplaces cropping up, including “Krampus Markets” for the gothier families. At one “Eff the Mall” market we went this past weekend, the Grinch replaced Santa as the main attraction, and another market had a comic convention-worthy display of cosplayers on hand for visitors ranging from Jack Skellington and Sally to Deadpool decked out for the holidays.

Sometimes there are live bands, local performance groups, and live art demonstrations on site.

Take a camera or keep your phone charged because we’ve gotten some really fun pictures at these markets.

Krampus cookies and custom jewelry are some of the gifts we bought home from the “Eff the Mall” punk rock holiday market. Images: Lisa Tate

They get us outside and walking.

Many Christmas and winter marketplaces we have attended are outdoors, often surrounding plaza areas or in open air shopping environments.

In the part of the country we live, the winters can be pretty mild, but even when the weather gets cold, we want an excuse to get away from the winter vacation couch. If you’re at a location filled with people, things to look at, hot beverages on hand, and a friendly atmosphere, you will hardly know you’re getting some exercise.

During a winter break, it can be pretty easy to get in the habit of seasonal movies and popcorn as an activity, but if you need an excuse to get outside and get some energy flowing, these markets often provide just that.

They are a fun option for eating out.

There have been times we’ve hit the markets just for the food. A good farmers’ market will sometimes have a full menu of homemade food from all over the globe, and everyone seems to be offering a sample of something from salsa to teas.

Now that the “food truck” is slowly taking over the world, some of these markets have more choices than a mall’s food court. We’ve had German bratwurst, Thai tea, Mexican style elote (corn) in a cup topped with local green chile, and little French pastries all in one day. It’s like one of those trendy fusion meals, but in a casual picnic style setting everyone can enjoy.

During the holidays, the specialty foods start popping up including little mince pies to sweet tamales. And yes, there’s fresh produce and honey at almost all of these events.

Want to be where people come together to celebrate the season or share their talents with others? I recommend getting to an arts market this month—or any time of year. There’s always something new to discover, no matter the season.

Oh, the feast… feast… feast you can have at the market any time of year. Images: Rick Tate
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