The holiday season is always an exciting time in New York City. When I arrived in the city for Thanksgiving break, I was met with intricate holiday windows that sparkled with every color and played holiday tunes. Walking by the Rockefeller Center, the massive Christmas tree was unlit and still surrounded by scaffolding but there was an air of anticipation for its lighting.
As people surged by me all bundled up in their winter coats, hot drinks in hand, I realized that holiday shopping was officially underway.
All the department stores in the city quickly became a frenzy with their extended holiday hours and beautiful displays. Customers were clearly enticed. While trying to think of a place where I could get personalized and handcrafted gifts for my friends and family, I immediately decided to visit the Union Square Holiday Market, an annual event that attracts millions of visitors, locals and tourists alike.
The Holiday Market is held in the iconic Union Square Park along East 14th Street. It’s incredibly easy to get lost among the countless stalls selling food, drinks and gifts so trust me, it’s worth setting aside a few hours of the day to wander around the market.
Pay special attention to socially-conscious goods with 100 percent handmade, made in New York, made from recycled, reused or vintage Items, organic certified, fair trade certified and local farmer labels.
With so many stalls to peruse, you may find yourself low on time to visit every one, so here is a list of some standouts to help you along:
Visit Rubyzaar’s stall for handmade clothing and cookies. Rubyzaar is a fair trade business that works with artisan crafts groups, tailors, weavers and farmers from Southeast Asia and East Africa to create their goods. The scarves and shawls on display are hand spun and woven by weavers from Northern Thailand and Java, Indonesia. In their wide array of earth tones, no two scarves are exactly alike. The hides used for their bags come from an organic free-range farm in Northern Thailand. The bags are on the pricier side, so if you’re not looking to spend a lot, pay a visit to Rubyzaar for their cookies. Homemade in Brooklyn, the cookies come in a wide range of flavors from Ambrosia (fig, pear, sage, roast walnut and creamed honey) to sticky fingers (smoked salt and butter scotch). And if you’re not quite ready to step out of your comfort zone, their classic chocolate chunk cookies are divine.
100 percent Cool Efi Designs
At the 100 percent Cool Efi Designs stall, Etsy designers sell their handmade and eco-friendly creations. This stall is perfect for picking out wallets, jewelry and other accessories to give as small and unique gifts.
Time Will Tell
If you want to pick out a new watch, be sure to stop by Time Will Tell. The watches are designed like chunky-beaded bracelets and come in a variety of colors. For an additional charge, you can custom-make your own watch by choosing the colors that make up the beads of the strap.
Viva Zapata! Bags
The Viva Zapata! stall will make choosing just one bag to walk away a difficult task. The bags are created from vinyl used for bus seats while the straps are made from material used for window shutters in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Bandolera design features colorful rectangular and canteen-shaped purses with contrast piping. The messenger bags have cute little pockets all over the outside in fun colors. The Gran Bajo is a bucket tote that is both chic and utilitarian, while the Zapata Classic is a medium bucket tote in mixed colors. You can also find carryalls, clutches, wallets and purses at this stall, all in vibrant colors and unique shapes.
Boundless Brooklyn sells craft model kits made from 100 percent recycled materials that make great gifts for kids. All the kits are fun to use and easy to assemble within 10 to 15 minutes. You can assemble things like wooden lighthouses, New York signs and half pipes. The kits can be further customized with markers and paints and the finished designs make excellent decorations.
Children’s Museum of the Arts-Art Making Station
For a suggested donation, children and adults can participate in family-oriented art projects at a variety of stations, like the ever popular clay bar. Their finalized work will be displayed around the booth for visitors to view and admire.
Visit the Pozie Poems stall for a hanging poem for your wall that is hand painted with positive sayings. This is guaranteed to lift your holiday spirits.
Annie Draws Stuff
Annie Draws Stuff sells original temporary tattoos, stickers, cards and prints for people of all ages. Annie is a Brooklyn-based illustrator who works with a variety of mediums. Drawings range from NYC landmarks to woodland creatures, metallic emojis to dinosaurs and everything else in between.
This bath and body stall sells products made from the mineral-rich Dead Sea water and mud. Their scrubs smell heavenly and leave your skin incredibly soft.
Beekman’s COPA Soaps
Visit Beekman’s COPA Soaps for cold-processed, all-natural soaps that are handmade in Philadelphia. Quality essential oils are used for a variety of scents and the bars come in different sizes so that you can purchase based on your personal preferences.
5th and Madison
This stall sells soy-based candles, flameless aromatics and bath and body products that are hand-poured and packaged in recyclable packaging.
To satisfy your hunger after wandering the myriad of stalls, a variety of vendors sell delicious street food right there in the market. Stop by Meatball Obsession for the No.1 ranked meatball in New York City. The meatballs are made from eight secret all-natural ingredients and are slow-cooked in a sauce that has been in the Mancini family for generations.
After, stop for artisanal pastries and churros at Dulcinea. With the Macaron Parlour, Momofuku Milk Bar and La Montagne Des Saveurs setting up stands nearby, it will be hard to leave the market on an empty stomach.
As dusk falls and the fairy lights turn on, you will feel the holiday spirit more than ever. When you are finally ready to leave, make one last stop at No Chewing Allowed! for a French hot chocolate that will warm you up on your way home.
Sophia Liao can be reached at [email protected]