November 17, 2010

Comfort and joy at the Christmas Faire

For the past ten days my husband was on holiday.  He is back to work for a few weeks and then, hopefully, if all goes well, he will take another week early in December.  My children don't see him much during the Christmas holidays; he works in a busy resort hotel and school holidays are the hotel's busiest times.  Our kids have all enjoyed having him at home, to greet them after school, to get after them about the messes they leave around the house (okay they didn't really 'enjoy' that part, but they took the opportunity to have fun bantering with him) and to skip school to spend Friday shopping and enjoying the artwork, beautiful food market, and shops full of handmade treasures on trendy Granville Island in Vancouver. 

When my husband is on holiday from his demanding job, we have to make the most of it.  Instead of thinking about what I was going to write on my blog for this weekly post, my brain was occupied with what I could accomplish around the house while my husband was home.  Without making too many demands on his well-earned holiday time we managed to put the yard in order for the winter, plant the garlic and the flower bulbs, trasplant the shrubs that have been staring at me for months, etc.  So, for today, I am reposting something I wrote last year around this time.  I have recently noticed all the ads for various Christmas Fairs in my area and they, as well as the beautiful craftwork we saw on Granville Island, have triggered some rather special memories from my childhood. 

Every year around this time our family friend Pauline would phone us to ask how many of us would like to work for her at the Kootenay Christmas Craft Faire. She paid well - around seven dollars an hour, so those of us without previous commitments would jump at the chance. I think I was twelve when I started working at the entrance gate. I had to dress warmly because the table where I sat to greet people and take their small entrance fee, though inside the badminton hall in the old Civic Centre, was directly downstairs from the door to the cold and wintry outside, and every time that door was opened a whoosh of cold air would descend the stairs and hit me with its fresh chill. I didn't mind. It was an excuse to drink endless cups of hot chocolate from the canteen.

Pauline's Faire was a magical time in my memory. It wasn't just a bunch of people selling stuff in a big gym, it was an event. Pauline had a vision of the kind of Faire she wanted to put on and she did it with resounding success every year. At one end of the hall near the canteen Pauline set up a stage for live music. My brother and sister - both singer-songwriters - were included on the schedule of performances along with several local acts, and I had a little sister's adoring pride in them. Chairs were set up by the stage for people needing a break from shopping to sit and visit. In between the live performances, Pauline played good recordings of Christmas music, mixed tapes many of which my family put together for her - we had a lot of records.

The Kootenay region is known for its artists and craftspeople ( and its colourfully dressed hippies) and the Faire was one of the occasions when many of these people came out of the proverbial woodwork and gathered to sell, to buy, and to just be together. I spent all the money I earned working at the entrance gate at the Faire, buying presents for my family and friends and maybe something for myself, too. How I loved to wander from table to table, smelling, touching, looking with wonder at the incredible things people had made with their own hands and imaginations: rods of iron forged into treble clef hooks and wall mounted candle holders; beeswax candles dipped in rainbows of colour; pottery of exquisite thinness or delighful chunkiness; hand-knit mittens and toques of hand-spun wool; handwoven scarves of jewel-toned silk; crocheted animals and doll's clothes; enameled copper barrettes and brooches; wooden toys and painted letters linked together to spell a child's name; tooled leather wallets and belts; crystals big and small to catch the light in a kitchen window; stained glass kaleidescopes; handmade beads and buttons and on and on and on. There was something for everyone of every budget. My first year attending the Faire I bought a tree decoration for $1.50. My last year I bought a handwoven wool scarf for $45.00.

Pauline has since retired and I have moved away. Most of the craftspeople I mention are now represented year round by at least one craft cooperative in my hometown. I can, when visiting my parents, see and buy these crafts at will (which of course is very good for the crafters and artists!). I would not for a second say that the quality of these crafts has diminished, but I will admit that something of the mystique surrounding them is lost for me. It is forever bound up in a dreamlike swirl of childhood memory.

Thank you Pauline.

The photo above is of the main street of my hometown of Nelson on a wintry afternoon.  Twenty years ago, I could be found sipping a special coffee in the Library Lounge of the Hume Hotel after a long day of Chistmas shopping.  I wish I knew who took the photo (found on google images), but I don't.


  1. I always liked craft fairs. I wonder if they still have any around here.

  2. Sounds wonderful! Arts and crafts fairs are one reason I love Austin; this town supports them, especially around the holiday season. Handmade is best!
    Thanks for visiting my blog and I look forward to reading more about you in your beautiful part of the world.

  3. Hi Dreamfarm Girl - Thanks for joining my blog! I joined yours a week or so ago - on your name alone. I'm constantly amazed at how many creative people there are out there in the world. It always gives me hope. I'm glad to hear Austin supports them.

  4. When I reposted this, the comments were reposted, too. I'm not sure how to get rid of them, so I'll leave them.

  5. Lovely piece Rebecca...and thanks for visiting my site. I lived on the Middle Road with the Rosenbergs and Isaac is not only my son Ryan's good friend, but one of mine too.

    Good connection.

  6. What wonderful memories and the photo is SO FESTIVE! We have dreary rain here and it makes me long for some crisp, DRY snow!

    Glad you had a wonderful vacation with your husband/family!

    Christmas will be here SO SOON!

  7. The photo of your home town Nelson matches the charm and wonder of the holiday faires you describe so well. What wonderful, textured childhood memories.

  8. Hello Gary...nice to meet you, too! Isaac was such a sweet little boy, that I'm sure he has grown into a lovely man. He is friends with my nephew James, too, I believe.

    Jill: I suppose it's a little early for Christmas photos but the decorations are going up in this part of the world, though we only have rain, too. It's cheerful to see the lights, though!

    Paul: Yes, those were good times. And I think contributed greatly to my work in the arts now.
    Thanks :)

  9. So, it is not where you live,but where you used to live. Yeah, we seriously need to annex Canada. :)

  10. very the pic...adn we love to visit craft fairs...

  11. Why do women buy clothes for their grown men at Christmas.
    Nothing good comes from it. For men do not ever spend anything like the time in consideration of clothing. So have little appreciation of the effort involved/expended. And for such efforts to generate a Guernsey is just beyond us.
    It's Gadgets gadgets gadgets. And it doesn't matter if your man translates Coptic into Linear B and finds Archilochus droll. Get Santa to bring him wood chisels-power tools or anything of that ilk. But keep the receipt.

  12. Hi Vince: Your comment reminds me of a wonderful little book I got as a child: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. In it, he finally gets to open his presents after all the round-the-world deliveries are made. He gets a 'Blooming awful tie from Aunty Elsie," and "Horrible socks from Cousin Violet," and then he opens a third gift - Cognac (you can put 'gadget' in there instead - and says, "AH! Thats more like it. Good old Fred."

  13. What a beautiful, heart-warming, festive post! So lovely.

    I know exactly that feeling as a child of going around the craft fair with your little bit of money in your pocket in the hopes of finding that perfect present!
    So glad you managed to have some TIME with your man. Sounds like you all made the most of it.
    And I love the picture you've included too!
    C x


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!