Tales from A Christmas Market

When I begin to wonder if it’s worth the effort, the universe sends me reminders. Christmas Markets aren’t quite what they used to be. Knitters, potters, crafters used to spend an entire year working hard to produce products to be shown at local craft shows strategically held in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  There has been a shift in Artisan markets and it’s not just for Christmas anymore. While the shift began prior to the pandemic, the pandemic itself and the requirement for isolation proved a boon to the cottage crafter industry. When people sat home in isolation they turned to learning new skills – quilting, macramé, painting, knitting and crochet, bread-making and baking – whatever was old became new again and new trends were invented and taught through the magic of YouTube and TikTok.  People were filling their crawl spaces and freezers with crafts and food with few outlets other than gifting to people who were already hard at work killing time with their own version of lockdown arts and crafts. Artisan markets became more frequent and that frequency seems to have negated the urgency of getting to a Christmas Market. Where once people planned not to miss this annual event because they would lose perhaps the only opportunity to purchase grandpa’s favourite hand-knit socks or hand-crafted earrings for their favourite sister, they could now catch vendors 2-3 times a week, every week and in many locations. Artisans are thrilled for the extra opportunities to display and sell their wares, but sales get diluted, and the extra gas, effort, table rent, endless setting up and taking down, and curating many shows starts to take hold and you are more likely to walk away without making back your rent, let alone the cost of materials in your product. But the fear of missing out is real and you find yourself signing up for every opportunity that comes along. 

Yesterday was an annual Christmas Market that I always look very much to attending in my few years that I have been selling my wares. It is vibrant, well organized, and usually well attended. It was obvious at the end of the day that mornings were the best because people who were planning on purchasing gifts came early, were armed with cash, and ready to shop. They already had a list in their head and were perusing in the hope that a special something would pop out at them to fill a need. With so many vendors to choose from, it was inevitable that they would find their treasures and then head off home to finish their day. The rest of the day seemed to be people who were nearby and wandered in for a gander. Killing time between tournament games at the next door arena was their MO and we were simply a pleasant interlude between periods.

I sold enough to pay my table rent, the gas in the vehicle, the materials in my products which is always a plus and made a little for my efforts as well. The hourly wage accrued after matting, framing, promoting twice a day on several platforms, curating my collection, packing, schlepping, setting up (and taking down), and chatting to potential customers for seven hours would be make Charles Dickens blush and, were he alive, he could write a whole new Christmas classic I’m sure. 

So why do it? For those moments that enrich our lives far more than the jingle of coins in a pocket. It’s the conversations – explaining where and how to see the Northern Lights. Sharing the beauty of the night sky (it’s not just the Auroras that are worth looking at). It’s the storytelling – a child fascinated by the photo of the Orion Nebula and taking the time to show them a photo of the constellation and pinpointing where you find the nebula and explaining what a nebula is. Listening to the mom as they walk away “who knew you could learn something at a craft show?”.  The countless people who stop and show me their own photos on their phones and we share the wonder that we felt in those moments. The encouragement I expend to others to just get outside and look up (it’s not always in the middle of the night).  Once an educator, always an educator.

And then there is the lady who stopped by to tell me that she had waited for a whole year to see my work again and was trying to decide exactly what print she would like. She told me she had put it on her Christmas list that she wanted a photo of the Aurora. She was there with her oldest and had three others at home – four under 5 years old (I could relate, I was her a very long time ago with four littles of my own). I chatted and told her stories about the prints and she made her decision. I accept only cash and e-transfer but her bank card was not working and she could neither e-transfer or go to a bank machine. I am not able to take or process credit cards but I assured her I would put her choice aside – a 4×6 framed photo and she could come back later or pick it up from my place of work in town on Monday. As luck would have it, I had 2 framed copies of the same print so I put the second copy out on my table and put hers away. Much later in the day a customer saw the second copy and asked if I had two copies to sell as she wanted to purchase two of the same. For whatever reason, two different ones was not going to work for her. I ran the odds in my head and thought for sure that a busy mom of 4 littles would not be making the trek back the same day and I would have ample time to frame another one for her when I got home. So I sold both copies. I did have a larger copy of the same print that was 5×7 matted and framed and thought I could just replace the smaller photo with the larger one if the first lady returned. Late in the day, that copy sold as well. I have to say this had never occurred before. At a half hour before closing, I looked up to see a very excited lady clutching $25 cash in her hand and saying, ”I’m here for my picture!”. My heart sank and I told her what happened but I would absolutely have one in her hands on Monday. Her disappointment was palpable, but on my table I also had a collection of unframed matted prints in a bin for people to peruse because there just isn’t enough room on a table to display everything. As we chatted, she looked through the bin and came across one of my all-time favourites on which I had overlayed a bible verse and she fell in love. This was clearly the photo she was meant to have. I was offering free 8×10 frames with every 5×7 matted print but she had grabbed just enough cash for the lower priced print. I quickly reassured her that I would happily put the matted print she fell in love with into a frame and charge her only the amount of the small frame. I was relieved to be able to make up for my broken promise. It was the least I could do after she had gone home, gathered the cash, then packed 4 littles into her van to trek back to the craft show to get the picture she loved and had waited a year to buy. She found another $5 and put it on the table but I refused it. No, I was happy to accept the original amount. I was deeply humbled by her joy in leaving with a print she clearly was meant to have. I have never, ever in all my markets ever sold every copy of a single print – never mind three. In fact, I very rarely have more than one print copy available at any given time and, if I do, it is usually because of an oversight.  This a great reminder that nothing, and I mean nothing, happens in God’s world by accident. 

So my pockets aren’t full, but my heart is overflowing and I am reminded of why I do what I do. There are only a few more markets till Christmas and I am excited for every single one.

The one that got away…

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