Almost anything can seem festive over the holidays. The lights, music, libations and good cheer make even shopping malls seem bedazzled. But the open-air markets in New York City – both the mainstay Union Square Holiday Market and the smaller Holiday Shops at Bryant Park, among many others – are in a class by themselves.
Modern holiday markets are modeled after the European Christkindlmarkt, or an open-air market set up during the four weeks preceding Christmas. Union Square's market, in its 17th year, does indeed close on December 24, while Bryant Park, in its 10th, is open through January 8th.
One of the most wonderful aspects of these markets is the vendors' visibility. Independent and small merchants can share their goods with a much larger crowd and can gain access to prime NYC real estate that would otherwise would be unaffordable; these vendors aren’t Tiffanys, but rather candlemakers, knitters or Israelis selling bath salts from the Dead Sea.
Shopping at these markets is also a great way to give back to the community. The Nomi Network, an organization that employs women who were trafficked and reinvests 100% of their profit into training them, sells their products at holiday markets. In Bryant Park, Animated Closet sells lots of cozy clothing with colorful graphics. The company's Pantamit Project works with local women's business ventures as well as community economic development initiatives around the world.
Even without such a cause to support, shopping at holiday markets feels notably different than shopping at a Gap or Crate & Barrel. Here, it is clear that by buying the merchandise you are directly supporting the artisan as well as endorsing his labor and creativity.
As festive as malls might become at this time of year, there is nothing that beats talking with a woman whose hand-made scarf you are buying. Yes, you might discuss the cold of December in New York City, but the temperature won't bother you for long since you're about to buy yourself a fresh cup of kinderpunsch, or hot apple cider, from the Austrian cider-maker at the next stall.