In Philadelphia, it's become the un-Black Friday — the place to get a jump on holiday shopping while avoiding the crowds and the hassle of the malls.
The annual Tibetan Bazaar offers no tufts of fluffy fake snow, no animatronic figures bleating seasonal greetings, no canned soundtrack playing the same Christmas carols over and over.
Instead, the bazaar offers warm, softly lit surroundings, a comfortable space to shop for fine textiles, jewelry, carvings, clothing and religious icons, handmade by Tibetan artists in exile. It's a place to put off the holiday rush, at least for a little while, and settle back with a plate of warm momos — traditional dumplings — and a steaming cup of butter tea.
This year, the bazaar runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Ethical Society building on the southwest corner of Rittenhouse Square. Sales benefit Tibetan artists and the local Tibetan community.
Virtually everything that's offered has been produced by hand, including extra-warm blankets and coats made with yak wool. Artists and vendors come from as far as Washington and New York.
Tibetans have lived in Philadelphia since the 1980s, although the majority of the 150-member community arrived in the last 10 to 15 years. They keep their culture alive by gathering every week for "Tibetan Sunday School," sharing language, stories, and songs with their children. The community holds an annual summer potluck dinner to celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama. And the bazaar has become an important marker of the coming winter season.
"People like that unique Tibetan design," said Karma Gelek, former president of the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia. "Everybody's welcome. Quite a few come every year. We've become a friend through the years, they see the same faces every year. When I ask, 'What attracts you?' they say, 'We like the Tibetan hospitality.' "