For the past few years, our town has had a Christmas Market a weekend or two before Thanksgiving. I haven't been before, and the excuse I most often use is that I don't like dealing with the parking. The truth, however, is that the excess of noise, bodies, and sights makes me intellectually dizzy. This year, since we're two blocks away, I had no excuse. Today, the weather is a gift, being in the low 50's with sun and a breeze--corn maze weather. But corn maze season is past and so we went to the Market.
We all went. I bought a giant snowman head for the front porch, we got a funnel cake for the boy and then I sent them home. (The giant snowman head is made of wood; it will last longer that way.) I stayed a while, wandering up and down the packed aisles, listening to the guy with the guitar playing holiday classics such as "The Boxer" and "I'm Yours." Actually, he was very good, sweet-voiced and lending a slight ethereal quality to the music that floated among the tents. He also had groupies, which made me giggle.
We do love our festivals and gatherings here in upstate NY. On any given spring/summer/fall weekend, you can find one within a 75 mile radius and the certainties are that there will be wine, there will be crafts, and there will be food that is uniquely ours (grape pies and garbage plates to name two). Christmas Market was the same, only with more greenery and lights.
My wanderings took me to the goatsmilk soap stand (guess what you're getting for the holidays) where I had a long chat with one of the women staffing the area. Like any mama she was bursting with pleasure over the results of their hard work, and the notice they were receiving. She told me about her daughter who makes the soaps and lotions, and her son-in-law who does the writing and the graphic design for the business, of how this was the first show they'd done, and about winning the prize for best booth in show much to their collective surprise. She gestured toward them and said "they do so much, and they're so good. And me?" She shrugged and let her words drift away. "You get to be proud," I said. Her face lit up, she grabbed my arm and said "Yes! And it's the best job in the world."
I love moments like this. Unexpected, and filled with camaraderie, warmth, storytelling. The tent, at first little more than a crush of the curious and the anxious, became a site of humanity, and of community; a place where potters explained their craft, woodworkers talked of turnings and tung oil, and the tile-maker described how she baked leaves into the clay and of how the blistering heat of the kiln would burn them away until only fossil records remained. A place where each hand-crafted piece came with a story, if we were ready to listen.
It is so easy to lose ourselves in our own thoughts and wants, and I am so often and so readily drawn to the solitary, that the small daily magic passes by, unseen. It's when we stop to listen to the guy with the guitar, the woman whose children are making a life from their passion, the stories of those who create things that are of and beyond themselves, that we find it again. If only for a moment. And I wonder, as I reflect, if those moments aren't truly the things that define us. And if they are not, then perhaps, they should be.