Maybe it’s just that it’s our first year as elves. Our first true year of joining the maker community--busily roasting, packaging and working all the fairs and markets. And we’ve got to say: what’s called the “holiday spirit” feels more alive than ever (despite Bill O’Reilly’s annual attacks on Great Barrington being “the town that hates Christmas,” including his most recent, “a good place to avoid this holiday season.”)
If this is the season to love your neighbor, help those in need, and celebrate family and community, we’ve witnessed it on all counts without having to look beyond our door.
The volunteer drivers on Thanksgiving Day, unloading van after van of people to the Guthrie Center where they serve hundreds of free meals. The snow plowers and electricity maintenance workers who helped get power back and get us all from place to place in those days. The guy who saw my car struggling up a hill, turned his truck around and “plowed” me home without waiting for a thanks (or a cookie).
And the fairs and markets (we’ve done every one we could, and still missed quite a few). Families with their children, including our own, working these markets—some during the day and then again at night at another event. Vendors trading goods and spending a healthy portion of what they made on each other’s wares. And the shoppers who turn out for these fairs and markets intent on spending their hard earned money locally (oh, how we love you!) to support their neighbors – farmers, makers, craftsmen, bakers, knitters, potters, sewers and artists.
At No. Six Depot café, we created gift boxes for people to fill with what they like from our shelves; and then scoured to stock up with the best locally made products. We exchanged goods at the markets with other vendors to save on shipping and delivery with these lean companies. Our customers appreciated it and filled two, three, nine (!!) boxes and we had to scramble to get more product in scrappy and inventive ways. A recent plea to a Hadley maker: “Drop the boxes at my cousin’s house and I’ll have her come visit me this weekend.” A vendor after a full day working a fair: “I’m sewing tonight, I’ll have my sister-in-law drop them to your store tomorrow.” These are family businesses in the truest sense and there is no rest for these elves.
Beyond the shopping, there are the celebrations. It’s almost impossible to make a date with friends as everyone seems to have a son or daughter, friend or loved one performing in a play, a dance recital or musical or religious event. Great Barrington’s Holiday Stroll saw packed streets and full shops where most people knew half the people they passed and where all generations mingled. In West Stockbridge, carolers sang through the streets, the community lit the tree and Santa arrived on a fire truck. This all repeated in nearly every town in big and small ways.
Sure, there are many communities like ours, but it still feels pretty special. In a time when we hear how detached, materialistic, lacking in “spirit” and community we are, we’ve seen the opposite. From the hard work of the makers, growers and retail workers; to the community that truly goes out of their way to support them with their purchases; to the towns, churches, synagogues, schools and cultural institutions that run on volunteers, donors and teachers to put celebrations together; to all the workers who keep our towns running—even on holidays, we say thank you. We're true believers.
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