The Best Finds at the Union Square Christmas Market
There are few places in the city that feel more authentically New York than Union Square, and perhaps no time of year more so than Christmas. This is a bold statement: New York City does Christmas very well. (Think of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and skating rink, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Macy's Santa, the window displays on 5th Avenue, Kevin McCallister eating pizza in the back seat of a limo.)
Though Union Square's function as a kind of town commons is one it shares with half a dozen squares and parks across the city, it is also one free of Times Square's tide of tourists or Washington Square's spray of students. Union Square is more multipurpose: it's a place where people visit and work and live and commute and—crucially come the holiday season—shop.
Since 1994, the Union Square Holiday Market has opened its doors (or rather its streets) to small businesses and savvy shoppers from November 17 to December 24 (with the exception of Thanksgiving).
Because many of the market's vendors don't have traditional storefronts outside the holiday season, founder Eldon Scott explained in a 2008 interview, "you end up with more unique and more quirky products than you would find in a traditional shopping center." That makes the Union Square Holiday Market the perfect place to encounter small businesses and artists you couldn't find anyplace else. The holiday market is also a great place for shoppers looking for deals—Scott estimated that the average price range as about $10-$30 per item.
Load up with some hot apple cider and fresh donuts from Breezy Hill Orchards and check out "Little Brooklyn," a section of the market that features vendors from New York's craftiest borough. While there, check out Hazel Village's organic, handmade stuffed animals—the perfect gift for the younger kids in your life—and Brooklyn Brew Shop's beer making kits—better for a 21+ crowd.
Elsewhere, we love the New Age-y vibe of We See Stars and the radiant, hand-crafted pieces from Bora Jewelry. The handsome shaving sets from the Men's Soap Shop might provide the gift-giving solution to the difficult-to-shop-for (but perfectly groomed) person in your life.
Bluecorn Naturals, one of the oldest annual vendors at the holiday market, makes their beeswax candles in Colorado every year before returning to New York come winter to sell them in Union Square. Bee Raw's gorgeously packaged honey is just the right pick for foodies and sweet tooths. And for a twist on the traditional holiday ornament, explore the "living ornaments" (actually terrariums housed in glass bulbs) offered by 4mula.
As you stroll, check out each booth's Artisan Pledge symbols, which help shoppers make clear, conscientious decisions. They certify goods as being "100% handmade" or "Made in NY" or "Fairtrade Certified" or "Made from recycled, reused, or vintage items" or whether they're from a "Local Farmer," among other descriptors.
The Union Square Holiday Market draws about one million shoppers each year. And it's no wonder; with over 150 vendors, the odds you'll find something for everyone on your list (plus yourself) are good.