By Elizabeth McGinley
Black Friday and Cyber Monday get all the media attention, but in our Northeast Philly neighborhood, Christmas Bazaar Saturdays win the day, shopping-wise. Seems every church within a three-mile radius holds its annual fund-raiser on a Saturday in early November to mid-December.
Having shopped at many of these holiday-themed extravaganzas, I'll grudgingly admit that each is lovely in its own way. Some sell terrific homemade goodies - women church-goers are among the last women in America who bake. Others offer useful household items - treasures reluctantly relinquished as older members downsize. But the event our small church holds the Saturday before Thanksgiving every year is simply the best. Would this apprentice church lady lie?
We have it all: The best lunch menu - German potato salad, hot dogs, vegetable soup, meatball sandwiches. The best crafts - knit baby blankets, hats, and scarves; Thanksgiving and Christmas wreaths and silk flower arrangements; dish towels with crocheted toppers; hand-painted ornaments (Frozen's Anna and Elsa were big hits this year). The best goodies - apple cake slices, chocolate chip cookies, old-fashioned sugar cookies . . . and, of course, soft pretzels. (There's a law, isn't there? No public event on Saturdays in Philadelphia without 'em?)
Where we really shine is in the "gently used treasures" department. The treasures themselves - Christmas decorations, glassware, china, knickknacks, linens, toys, books, jewelry - are dusted, washed, or polished and displayed with care. But more important, the workers behind the folding-table counters treat each shopper as if he or she were a Trump buying stocking stuffers at Tiffany's. No turquoise-blue box ever held a more lovingly wrapped gift; no sale is complete without a smile and a thank you.
Some shoppers are slow to make a decision. Some imperious: "Make sure you wrap that well. I'm taking the bus, you know." Others try to haggle. I prefer to remember the frail woman in the worn coat who gave me a rumpled $1 bill for a 50-cent purchase and said, "Forget the change, honey, it's for a church, after all."
Then there was the elderly woman who looked, as my mother used to say, like a good meal would kill her and who bought a shopping bag full of fragile stemware. After double-wrapping each glass, kind Jenny offered to carry them to her car. "So nice," I thought, as I watched them slowly walk to the exit. Fifteen minutes later, Jenny returned, smiling to herself, the shopping bag in her hand. "When we moved everything and finally got the bag to fit into her trunk," she explained, "the dear soul was hit with buyer's remorse. She asked me if she could get her money back."
There was no irritation in Jenny's voice - just patient acceptance. I hope to be a church lady like that someday.
I looked around at our crowded church basement then. I watched as our youngest seller, whose Daisy troop is trying to earn money for a Christmas toy drive, sold what used to be her wooden toolbox to another youngster. Both seemed very pleased to be doing business together.
At a table near the kitchen, a few regulars from our monthly free community lunch were relaxing over coffee. "Glad to help out," one said when our pastor thanked them for coming.
I overheard someone else telling the daughter of a recently widowed woman about the social programs offered on weekdays at a nearby senior center. "That's good to know," said the daughter. "Mom is so lonely now without Dad. She was thrilled I could get her here today."
Perhaps Christmas bazaars seem hopelessly last-century in this era of fast, impersonal, online holiday shopping. But what if you look at the people gathered at these events in a certain light - like that one shining on a rough-hewn stable two millennia ago?
Christmas Bazaar Saturdays just might lift your spirits, as hopeful reminders that someone came to demonstrate that each of us - no matter how imperfect, no matter how gently or roughly used by an otherwise indifferent world - is a treasure beyond price.