The tradition of peddling handicrafts and home-baked goods just in time for the holidays has spread far and wide in American towns, beyond the churches and charitable organizations that conceived Christmas bazaars generations ago.
From late October to mid-December, dozens of holiday bazaars in Southern Oregon bring together vendors and shoppers in a variety of venues. Many benefit nonprofits and community projects, but these annual events are eclectic emporiums, offering everything from holiday décor and edible treats to fashion accessories and fine art.
As the format gained popularity, direct sales of commercially manufactured items also have grown. But the most beloved bazaars remain those featuring only handcrafted goods.
“The maker’s movement is a big thing right now,” says Sheri Holtz, bake-sale director for Holiday Bazaar at the Naz, formerly Medford’s First Church of the Nazarene.
Handmade knitwear, pottery, decorations, fudge and Holtz’s hand-dipped truffles are among the items that distinguish the Naz’s bazaar, in its 24th year and widely regarded as one of the region’s best. The event involves more than 200 volunteers of all ages who fill roles from greeting visitors at the door to serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at its holiday café.
“It kind of helps kick off the season,” says Jonalyn Fabrin, bazaar organizer at the Naz, on East McAndrews Road.
Typically planned for the first weekend in November, the bazaar started as a fundraiser for the church’s women’s ministry. Now it benefits Medford Gospel Mission women’s and children’s shelter, as well as other local families in need selected by the congregation. None of the proceeds support church operations, organizers say.
“The money goes right back out into the community,” says Holtz. “It also gives you a chance to build community.”
A few Gospel Mission residents pitch in with church members to prepare desserts and snacks for the bazaar bake sale. Holtz contributes hundreds of truffles rolled by her friends and neighbors in her home kitchen during a five-day flurry of activity. In flavors of lemon, orange, peppermint, amaretto, eggnog and — new this year — birthday cake, the truffles sell for $1 apiece and sell out quickly.
“It’s sort of gotten crazy,” says Holtz. “I don’t do this any other time.”
Timing bazaars to the holiday season is likely as old as the fundraising premise, common in English-speaking countries for more than a century. Not only do people feel more generous around Christmas but, particularly in the 21st century, are looking for unique gifts representing more than the Western World’s annual consumerist ritual.
“It’s not something off the shelf in the store,” says Rob Holbeck, who works in Jackson County Expo’s community development.
Holiday Market at the Expo, says Holbeck, is likely the largest assembly, south of Portland, of artisans selling only handcrafted wares. Free admission encouraged between 5,000 and 6,000 people to shop the 190 vendor booths the second weekend in November. Although some vendors are from the Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley and Northern California, says Holbeck, “it’s amazing how many of them are local.”
“A lot of the people who come to these shows are the busy moms and don’t really have time to do crafts,” says Holbeck. “Everything you see on Pinterest but you can’t make yourself, we’ll have it here.”
The Expo also planned to host Merry Market, which includes vendors of mass-produced items, the same weekend as Holiday Market. A new event, Merry Market expands the range of gift options for purchase, says Holbeck, who predicted that handmade counterparts, from metal and woodwork to edible fare, would remain more popular.
“There’s a lot of people who walk out with Christmas decorations.”
The season’s cheer spreads to bazaar vendors, some of whom expect to sell out their entire year’s inventory at a single bazaar. Highly regarded for low vendor fees, the Naz prices its spaces by the square foot, says Fabrin. As the event outgrew the church gymnasium, it spread over the building’s entire first floor to accommodate 74 vendors, 15 new this year, she says. The bazaar also dropped its $1 admission to free entry with the request of nonperishable food donations for the church food pantry.
“It’s kind of evolved into a more giving-back-to-the-community kind of event,” says Fabrin.
Find more information about Southern Oregon’s holiday bazaars every Friday in the Mail Tribune’s Tempo.
Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at firstname.lastname@example.org.