Get More Than Gifts at Boston’s Merry Markets

Find a map of winter markets around Boston at the bottom of the page.


n 1742, Peter Faneuil commissioned the construction of a hall where farmers and merchants across the city could gather to sell their products. Inspired by the idealized ancient Greek agora, it was once a hub for sellers and speakers, artisans and activists, producers and politicians. In 1820, Boston Haymarket was established as an outdoor produce market that continues today with rows and rows of white tents that shelter a kaleidoscopic display of fruits and vegetables all year long. In 2011, the Boston Public Market, a contemporary culinary marketplace, continued this tradition of food-centric markets that exist in Boston, all within blocks of one another.

Marketplace environments are familiar to the city of Boston, having been present for centuries in its history. The markets mentioned above are permanent institutions, with known reputations among locals and visitors alike that guarantee their continued existence. In the last 50 years, however, the market culture has taken a step back from the food trade and begun to commodify works of art and the artistic creation of other goods like jewelry, clothing, and dishware.






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n 2016, Boston jumped on the opportunity to introduce its own artisan market, similar to the Christkindlmarkt in Germany, one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world. Yet, this holiday season, City Hall Plaza is void of this festival buzz since the Boston Winter Market that has occupied it the last two years has been canceled due to the plaza’s pending renovation.

There’s no ice rink, no stage, and no maze of quaint white sheds filled with the handmade products of local artisans. Despite this lost opportunity for the plethora of vendors who might have relied on this event for a bulk of their December profits, there are so many other independent craft fairs and artisan markets across the city—with longer histories than you might expect—that provide similar artists with a space to nurture their businesses and introduce consumers to unique handcrafted commodities that they could gift to loved ones.

The number of these markets that take place in and around Boston is virtually uncountable, and they seem to be becoming increasingly popular with the college-aged students who live near the city. Craft fairs tend to reach toward one goal: bringing independent manufacturers to the general public. They exist for the producers. And December sees an immense rise in craft fairs—which isn’t surprising because the holiday season is the prime time for most artisans to sell their commodities and turn over a profit. The thing is, though, no matter how similar they seem to each other, every market has its own personal touch, represents values important to its creators, and highlights its unique artisans.

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handful of markets have been inspired by the city in which they are established, with histories that—although not quite as long as Boston’s history—are nearly as rich. Leslie Gray and her partners Connie Barbour and Michael Jordan are Harvard Square’s local Santas. As the organizers of the Harvard Square Holiday Fairs, they start planning for the event in January, gathering vendors and securing a space, and have been doing so since 1986. Gray insists that the “maker’s movement” is not new—but in the last 15 years, it has seen a noticeable rise not only in the number of visitors but in the number of independent artisans.

Some markets, like the Cultural Survival Bazaar, have more of a mission than just turning a profit for vendors and giving customers the chance to buy the perfect gift. Solely composed of indigenous crafters, the 40-year-old market spotlights cultural perseverance and representation through its diversity of culturally local vendors.

The typical interaction between producer and consumer today is so far removed, and artisan markets are a way to bridge the gap that seems to be growing wider, as institutions like fast fashion—the contemporary trend of moving mass quantities of designs from runway to store very quickly—are ingrained into society.

Jess Cherofsky, the bazaar’s program manager, emphasizes the importance of the face-to-face interaction between the producer and consumer. The vendors that have been present at the bazaar for decades exemplify the type of environment that bazaars and the artisans that work at them create, she said. Market organizers are reaching out to crafters and buyers alike to keep this uniquely intimate relationship alive.

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ikewise, the Swedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA) celebrates Swedish culture at its annual Swedish Yuletide festival. It’s more than just a market, though, as the festival’s purpose is to serve as a fundraiser, providing scholarships to young American women studying in Sweden, networking for Swedish women living abroad, and fundamentally educating visitors about SWEA and the work it does for women.

Apart from its fundraising, the market is a celebration of culture, featuring music, foods, and entertainment where visitors can spend an entire day. For many members of SWEA, this marks the beginning of the Christmas season. There’s a comfort in the atmosphere, said Ginga Sewerin-Olsson, the event coordinator. She said that everything from the music to the glogg—the Swedish spiced beverage of the season—assures her that it’s Christmas again. The events and the commodities are representative of Swedish culture and recirculate in a way to support the association.

This sense of community is just as present in Old South Church at their annual Christmas Craft Fair. Adriana Repetti, vocalist for the church and organizer of the craft market, explained that it came to fruition over 20 years ago by the congregation and for the congregation. Since then, as an artisan herself, she has brought in fellow crafters and doubled the fair in size.

“[It exists] to do something that brings people into the building and lets them feel welcomed and that there’s a beautiful haven in the city,” she said.

Similarly deemphasizing the profitability of the market, CraftBoston, which comes from the Society of Arts and Crafts, intends to highlight artists and their works. The fair isn’t just a market—it holds showcases and lecture series to educate visitors on the time and effort that really comes into each product. Vicky Rodriguez, the manager of CraftBoston, explained her experience with this, remembering her own connection to the artisans who created such products.

“I drink out of a mug every day, and it’s like being with the person who made it,” she said. “I have friends who make jewelry … every time I put on a pair of earrings, I think about the person who made them.”

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t many of these fairs—at least, at the ones that have already opened this year—the crowd consists of older customers, but as the market culture continues to grow, the crowds diversify in age. Contemporary and recently-established installations draw herds of millennials, their young kids, and their dogs.

The SoWa Winter Festival does exactly this. The industrial SoWa Power Station, decorated with string lights like stars dangling from the ceiling, attracts 20-somethings with eyes for aesthetically-pleasing spaces that contain unique and photogenic events. Aida Villarreal-Licona, the fair’s director of community arts and events, said that the event sees thousands of visitors wanting to do something in the winter that has to do with the holidays in their city. The festival gives back to the community, donating a portion of the bar’s proceeds to the United South End Settlements. It exists for local artisans to promote their work and works for local nonprofits to exist.

Along with other Boston activities, all of these events, in the winter specifically, promote the independence of the artist community and enable these artisans to continue profiting from their passions. They’re all connected in one way or another—whether it be the history, the location, the emphasis on culture, the focus on community—but with the abundance of diverse winter markets in the city, maybe it’s all right that the Boston Winter Market is closed this season.

Images and Map by Mary Wilkie / Heights Editor

Mary Wilkie

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