Phyllis "Fifi" Siksik spends part of the year with her husband, Alberto, in his native France, most often in Nice and surrounding Provence. There, her favorite thing to do is go to the open-air markets, sometimes extending her visits to those along the nearby Italian Riviera.
"You see people walking by every day and it is not just shopping, but a party of sorts. It is a tradition I think we have to resurrect in the United States," Siksik said of the market that survived a brief conflict over its name this week.
So when Siksik heard about the Christmas Village market on Dilworth Plaza at Philadelphia's City Hall, she knew she had to be a part of it. The Siksiks, with their Noel en Provence - imported European soaps, leather goods, and jewelry - are among more than 50 vendors at this year's village, open daily through Christmas Eve.
The market started in 2008 as the Christmas Village in Philadelphia under the auspices of the German Society of Pennsylvania. Its booths in mock streetscapes emulate markets in German cities from Munich to Hamburg, which inspired similar markets in Britain, Italy, France, and even Japan, where Christmas isn't celebrated per se, but there are holiday markets in Osaka, Sapporo, and Hiroshima.
Most vendors will be selling gifts or food, and much of the food will be German-oriented, sponsored by Brauhaus Schmitz and Chaddsford Winery. There will be a carousel at times, and the city's holiday tree is near.
Peter Adels said he and his co-owners of the Blue Lotus Gallery at 12th and Sansom Streets decided to try out the Christmas Village as an adjunct marketplace last year for their Asian imported items.
"It was really successful for us for our lower-priced gift items like handknit wool sweaters, handmade paper products, and kids' things like little animal puppets," said Adels, whose wares mostly come from Nepal and the rest of South Asia. "It is great fun and great exposure, because people come through there who would probably not go into our store otherwise."
For some vendors who offer wholesale goods, the Christmas Village market is an opportunity to get a little taste of retail. Betty and Gene Ward, the owners of Nimba Traders in Delaware County, import handicrafts and jewelry from Indonesia and Thailand, but have no retail store.
"It is a good market and the people who sell there are interesting as well. It is a nice community of vendors who help each other out," Betty Ward said. Ward thinks the recent economic downturn will actually be a boon to this year's market. "Most of us sell things that are both unique and inexpensive. You aren't going to get this variety many other places."
This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, there will be German American dance troupes performing throughout each afternoon and evening and the Chaddsford Winery will be featuring its German "gluhwine," served hot.
The Siksiks will be selling some whimsical soaps - a bar that smells like chocolate, for instance, and a garland of scented hearts and clovers - and handmade gloves from Naples, Italy, some like Michael Jackson's, with jewelry on the outside and colored fingers inside.
"The point is to have fun and entertain," Fifi Siksik said. "Because my husband is French, I think last year we saw every French person in Philadelphia come by. In Europe, these are a very big deal. You can take a boat down the Danube and stop at several Christmas markets. This one just feels European."
Last year, the Christmas Village market was open even during a December snowstorm. While the vendors aren't relishing the thought of another one, it still was part of the experience.
"Being open during the blizzard was actually fun. People came out to shop," Fifi Siksik said. "You make the best of things - that is the Philadelphia version and we hope it continues forever."