It's a shopping excursion, family reunion and charitable activity all rolled into one

Area bazaars offer holiday gifts and a chance to be with friends and relatives

Maryland Journal


For those who want to forgo the crowded malls and the impersonal Internet for their holiday shopping, the many bazaars that dot the area on fall weekends offer an alternative featuring whimsical crafts, fresh greenery and homemade goodies.

"I love stuff like this," said Barbara Steger of Union Bridge, who saw a road sign for the Mistletoe Mart in Carroll County and decided to stop. "You don't need a big shopping center."

Bette Brust and Janet Wenk often make a sisters day out of bazaar shopping. With a calendar of events and a map, the siblings plot their holiday shopping, much of which is at bazaars. This month, Brust traveled from Middletown to meet her sister, who hails from Gaithersburg, at the Mistletoe Mart, a three-day event at Ascension Episcopal Church in Westminster.

"My sister and I really like a good bazaar," Brust said. "We have to be choosy because we can't get to as many as we would like. The gifts are unique and everybody is friendly, so friendly that we do more talking to more people than we do shopping."

The conversations often lead them to another bazaar.

"The church ones are better," Wenk said. "We can go at our own pace and have a great lunch."

Churches, civic organizations and schools organize bazaars as fundraisers. A bazaar can be months in the planning. Mistletoe Mart organizers judge vendors in February for the annual November event. Fifty are invited to participate.

"We look for the different and unique, but we are always conscious of the pocketbook," said Sandy White, publicity chairwoman.

Volunteers mail hundreds of announcements about a month before the mart. Setup takes at least three days, with 1,900 hours of preparation from at least 120 volunteers, White said.

The Mistletoe Mart typically draws about 3,500 people during its three-day run and usually raises more than $20,000 for the church, which shares proceeds with five local charities, White said.

After 32 years of Christmas bazaars, mart organizers know how to create ambience. Traditional carols play softly in the background. The offices, classrooms and church hall are transformed with lush greenery bedecked with gold, red and green ribbons. Volunteers, clad in red smocks and Santa caps, are everywhere, eager to help and often treating busy vendors to lunch.

A tearoom promises complimentary cups of steamy spiced tea and freshly baked cookies in a quiet nook furnished with cozy chairs and sofas.

"The tea is incredible," said Nanette Walker of Westminster, who asked for a second cup and a recipe. "The setting is so pretty here in a church. It has all the little touches."

The tearoom has a double purpose, said Mary Locke, volunteer pourer. "We give them a place to rest so they can shop more," said Locke, who had a list of her own to take care of. "This is an annual event that brings people back from far and wide. You really can shop for everything right here."

Elaine Sweitzer of Millers spent $12 for a snowman kit for a grandchild. She said, "I come every year and I love it. You run into all your friends, and the vendors are fabulous."

Shoppers often dropped their bags to hug an old friend and for many, the mart is a family affair.

"Families actually plan trips so they can get together in Westminster at the Mistletoe Mart," White said. "For many, it is a tradition that starts holiday shopping."

Mia Arenz, 5, planned to purchase "stuff for me and my whole family," while having "a special girl day" with her mother, Christina Arenz of Union Bridge.

Joan Berends of Westminster arranged to meet her daughter and infant grandson from Hanover, Pa., and spend the day together.

"This is a reunion for us," Berends said. "There is so much community, friendliness and warmth here. Every time I turn down an aisle, I find somebody I know."

Beth Snyder of Spring Grove, Pa., and her mother, Pat Snyder, of Reisterstown, also had a mother-daughter day. They planned to take their time with buying decisions and to have a long chat over tea.

Three generations of Barbara Ellis' family were shopping together.

"I come every year with my daughter Ilana," Ellis said. "She still comes with me and brings her daughter."

Ilana Johnston remembered mart shopping throughout her childhood. She continues the tradition with 7-year-old Emily.

"Christmas bazaars are neat and filled with things you don't find anywhere else," said Ilana Johnston.

Jeanine Lindenstruth of Westminster brought 3-month-old Joshua and Nicolas, 3, who remembered from last year that there are trains. The bazaar offers parents a chance to shop child-free: A supervised "angel room" is available, where children can create and wrap gifts.

"It is very kid-friendly and I like supporting the church," Lindenstruth said. "There is definitely something here for everybody."

The mart rotates vendors each year and keeps a waiting list, but a few, like Bette Foote, seller of antique prints, are perennial.

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