5 Hot New Holiday Markets In New York City

Come December, New York City becomes a veritable mecca of holiday shops, festivals and bazaars. Most tourists are familiar with the classic gift emporiums at Grand Central, Bryant Park and Union Square. But those markets tend to turn off the newer, younger, more independent brands with their hefty vendor fees and multi-week commitments.

For a different scene, check out some of the city’s newer holiday markets, which offer food, drinks, workshops, art exhibitions and, of course, innumerable gift ideas from some of the city’s hottest up-and-coming brands. Here are five of the most buzz-worthy.

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar
The scene: A Williamsburg warehouse is transformed into a month-long hipster spectacular of art, music, food, drink and holiday shopping. Weekend nights feature concerts curated by Fader, Hype Machine, Gothamist and other musical tastemakers.
Gift ideas: Handprinted iPhone cases from Blissful Case, artisan soaps from Ebb & Flow, reclaimed wooden cutting boards from Grain.
When: Fridays and Saturdays, November 23 to December 22, 6 p.m. to midnight
Where: 45 N. 5th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Admission: FreeGIVE GOOD Market*
The scene: A two-day market featuring close to 40 socially conscious businesses owned by women, along with a full lineup of DIY craft workshops, film screenings, musical performances, art exhibitions and a panel on the role of entrepreneurship in women’s empowerment.
Gift ideas: Reclaimed leather handbags from Shannon South, contemporary cow horn jewelry from Kora, hand-knitted hoop scarves from Indego Africa.
When: November 30 to December 1, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Starrett Lehigh Building, 601 W. 26th St., Chelsea, Manhattan
Admission: Free

Bust Magazine Holiday Craftacular and Food Fair
The scene: A kick-ass selection of more than 200 vendors, selling handmade craft items, artisan foods and craft beers over two days. Arrive early; the first 300 shoppers each day get a free goodie bag.
Gift ideas: Artisan cosmetics from The Elixery, shibori-dyed pillows from Eighty8Percent, Hipster Bingo.
When: December 1 to 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 82 Mercer St., SoHo, Manhattan
Admission: $3

Hester Holiday Market
The scene: More than 40 gift and food vendors take over a historic Nolita building in this holiday shopping event from the organizers of the Hester Street Fair. Opening day on December 1 will feature a tree-lighting ceremony, animated light show and Christmas carolers.
Gift ideas: Upcycled charm bracelets from Tillydoro, handprinted socks from Strathcona Stockings, hand-blended looseleaf teas from Not Just Tea.
When: December 1 to 2, 8 to 9, and 15-23, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 233 Mott St., Nolita, Manhattan
Admission: Free

Brooklyn Craft Central Annual Holiday Market
The scene: This two-weekend event features a curated selection of (mostly) Brooklyn-based crafters and designers. Holiday cocktails and spicy pupusas will also be on tap.
Gift ideas: Hardwood wine holders from Gowanus Furniture, quirky tees from The Fencing & Archery Printing Co., whimsical jewelry from Virginie Millefiori
When: December 15 to 16 and 22 to 23, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Littlefield Art Space, 622 DeGraw St., Park Slope/Gowanus, Brooklyn
Admission: Free

*Disclaimer: The author of this post is on the organizing committee for this event – another reason to check it out!

[Photo Courtesy: Brooklyn Night Bazaar on Facebook]

Paris hosts annual agriculture fair February 19th-27th

Paris may be one of the global epicenters of fashion, but next week, the city will be more sow’s ear than silk purse (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). The The New York Times reports that the 48th annual Salon de l’Agriculture will run Feb. 19th to the 27th at the Porte de Versailles. The festival is a showcase for France’s finest livestock (over 3,500 animals will be in attendance) and farm-related events and activities. The featured line-up includes rare cow breeds; sheep-herding competitions; gardening workshops, traditional music, produce stands, farm machinery displays, a children’s area, and panel discussions.

The Salon’s theme for this year is “Farming and Food: The French Model,” inspired by UNESCO, which last November added the French gastronomic meal to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (whew). Food samples and farmstead products will also be available from the winners of the Concours Général Agricole, an annual competition of France’s signature food and drink products. And keep an eye out for Nicolas Sarkozy; the French president traditionally makes an appearance at the festival.

P.S. The twelve euro entry fee may just be the best deal in Paris. Try getting a good cheese for that.

Ten Finnish festivals to finish the year

We’re into the home stretch on 2009, with only three months left to enjoy. Then, the calendar page flips over, and we take on 2010. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways left to make the rest of this year memorable. In Finland, home to some of the strangest celebrations on the planet, you can find a few interesting distractions – and they’ll make for great stories when you get home. Of course, there are a few mixed in that aren’t so strange but could still be pretty interesting.

1. Rovaniemi Design Week
Head up to the capital of Lapland to enjoy its first ever design week. On its own, this seems pretty mundane … until you get a sense of what’s scheduled to happen. The event will host the 24th Design Challenge, which involves competing to develop the Arctic Circle: Santa’s home base.
September 28-October 4, 2009

2. Baltic Herring Fair
This festival dates back to 1743 in Helsinki and is the oldest event dedicated to Finland’s most important marine product fish. Look for it in the Old Market Square.
October 4-10, 2009

3. Carnival of Light at Linnamäki Amusement Park
The Carnival of Light involves fire acrobats and the Pumpkin Fest parade, not to mention an array of ghosts and witches. A laser show and Harry Potter-themed skating rink tie it all together.
October 8-19, 2009

4. Skiexpo
This is the largest winter sports fair in the Nordic corner of the world and includes downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and other bone-chilling experiences.
October 30- November 1, 2009

5. Etnosoi! Festival
Listen to Hungarian Gypsy music groups Romengo, Nadara (from Transylvania) and Dobet Gnahoré from Ivory Coast thanks to the Global Music Centre and Centre for Romany Art.
November 4-8, 2009

6. Moving in November
Like to dance? Or, just watch? The Moving in November festival brings contemporary dance acts from across Europe. This year, enjoy two Finnish premieres: riffy by Tommi Kitti (love the name) and Moe by Heli Meklin and Michael Laub.
November 3-8, 2009

7. Helsinki Motor Show
This is the only annual auto exhibition in Scandinavia! Go to the Helsinki Fair Center where you’ll see the work of Finnish importers and manufacturers from around the world. Look for a few concept cars while you’re there.
November 26-29, 2009

8. Ladies’ Christmas Market
Load up on locally made products from the women of Finland at The Christmas Market at Wanha Satama. On the shelves, you’ll find plenty of jewelry, ceramics, leather, woodwork, clothing, baked goods and Christmas goodies.
December 2-6, 2009

9. The Declaration of Christmas Peace
Spend Christmas Eve participating in a tradition seven centuries old: the declaring Christmas peace in the Turku Cathedral.
December 24, 2009

10. New Year at the Senate Square
Ring in the new year at Senate Square, where you’ll be treated to professional firework displays and all the liquor you can store in your pockets.
December 31, 2009

Band on the Run: Let’s Not Demolish the Old-Fashioned Fair

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

As I walked down the normally quiet street of Vankleek Hill, Ontario and saw the tips of the ferris wheel come into view, I got excited. At the gate of the fair, two men stood wearing bar-back aprons around their waists that advertised competing beer companies and each waist apron was stuffed with money. It was only $8 to attend the Vankleek Hill Fair and I think that was pretty reasonable, especially since it’s my first-ever experience at a real country fair.

And, let’s not forget, a Demolition Derby.

But before we get there, to the craziness of the derby, I must comment on the quaintness of this fair. Overall, this fair felt old-fashioned in every way. Even with the hip t-shirt vendors, Mohawk-shorn teens and mingling beeps of cell phones amidst the constant musical drone of the rides and betting games, I still expected to see women with long dresses and parasols trailing kids in suspenders licking giant lollipops — straight out of the turn of the century.

This is the real deal. I hope these kinds of fairs aren’t a dying breed.

I felt as though I were stepping back into time, or a book, or an old movie. There was a petting area for goats and llamas and donkeys as well as pony rides for kids (and check out these goat hooves in the grooves of the fence as they try to get fed by those walking past!); there were birds on display in cages explaining where they were from and who farmed what around the area; there were cotton candy vendors, kids with sticky fingers and the smell of hot dogs around every turn; the rides were full of screaming teenagers and bored teen attendants taking tickets that were overpriced to begin with – but who can put a price on thrills, eh!?

We got a “seat” at the Demolition Derby just about fifteen minutes before it started. Lyndell was so excited. She had been to these as a kid and said she loved them. I had no idea what to expect. Now, I say “seat” because it was really just a balancing position on a guard rail that wasn’t already being sat on. We had pretty good sight lines, actually, and I settled in for a brand-new cultural experience with what I tried to keep an open mind.

Someone described this to me in advance as “real-life bumper cars.” I hadn’t even considered this as entertainment in my whole life – I’d never heard of it – and the closest thing I could imagine about it was the monster truck programs that I’d seen on TV growing up. I figured it would be full of boys and their toys and that I’d be bored, but again, I tried to stay open. In the way of cars, I’m pretty stereotypically “girl.” (Although, I do like to talk about bio-diesel and alternative fuels when given the chance!)

We balanced on the railing trying to shift when our butts fell asleep as the first of the cars pulled into this extremely small area surrounded by stone barricades. In fact, I couldn’t believe it when over ten cars pulled into the area – an area smaller than a soccer field – as though they would have even a bit of room to breathe once they were all going different directions!

The announcer was a local radio host, I think. He was pretty terrible, but at least kept talking at the crowd to keep them informed about what was happening if they couldn’t see properly or didn’t know who was driving what. (Turns out that two women were in one of the heats. They didn’t win, but I was cheering them on and hoping they’d kick some butt on behalf of women everywhere!)

So this is what happens in a Demolition Derby: a whole bunch of cars gather in a small space (that in this case was muddy and slippery). When the whistle blows, they drive around and ram into each other until they destroy each other’s cars. These cars are basically “write offs” to begin with and have been selected for destruction. Many of these vehicles wouldn’t even pass the emissions or safety standards for licensing and so they’re “sacrificed” for the sport, if you will. When a car hasn’t moved in over a minute, they are out of the game and must remove the flag that is positioned just above the driver on the hood of the vehicle. When the last car is still running and moving, it is declared the winner. At that point, the driver crawls out of the window (all doors must be welded shut and all windows knocked out for safety) and stands on the roof of the car banging his chest. Basically, the only strategy to obtain this win is to position hits well (mostly by rearing into people so as to protect one’s engine) and to avoid being hit by others. I’d say there’s a lot of luck in it. (Or, in many cases, bad luck.)

It’s a giant free-for-all.

The place went crazy. Four different heats and one final round for any cars still able to compete even after their heats were over. Lots of smoke and fire and overheating. The ambulances and fire trucks were standing by. Lots of yelling and screaming.

I was sitting by these teenage girls with shiny clean braces that were direct contradiction with their dirty mouths. It amused me; It’s been so long since I could relate to the showing off that happens in groups of teenaged girls, especially when strangers can hear and no parents are near. One of the drivers – a 17 year-old “rookie” from the local high school — had painted all of their names on his car. One of the girls was thrilled to have her name in a central position and kept yelling “You bang ’em up Scotty and I’ll bang ya later!” Her friends giggled and guffawed but screamed their support too, wanting Scotty to “Kill that car” or “Watch that side – you’ll wreck our names!” Now fill in all the blanks with expletives and you’ve got the picture.

We left just before the final round to beat the crowds. Lyndell was bouncing in her feet as she walked, so happy to have relived something from childhood. I was trying not to be a “party pooper” about the environmental impact such an event has. It kinda made me feel sick to my stomach, actually, (which could have been the exhaust and the fumes) and I was quietly wishing that I could just lighten up and enjoy it without analyzing everything.

What I did enjoy was the energy of a community. Now, if we could only get that energy together to protect the local water rights, elect an honest representative for parliament, or phase-out factory farming and non-organic agriculture in these parts.

Now that would be a derby I’d attend.

In the meantime, I’ll likely go back again in the future (if we’ve got that Saturday off next summer) because I’ve a feeling I’ll be cheering Lyndell on. She’s keen to get behind the wheel and do some damage. She said it’s a smarter kind of “roller derby” for her bad knees!

That made me smile, despite my misgivings.

She’ll probably win.

Especially if we never demolish the old-fashioned fair.