A Shopping “Mallternative” for Christmas: Host a Church Holiday Market

November 4, 2010


[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

Christmas shopping doesn't have to be that bad!

It may seem too early to bring up Christmas, but we know how it goes: In October we have the best intentions of gifting our loved ones with only fair trade, local, or handmade Christmas gifts, but by mid-December our minds are too frazzled and our lives too harried to come up with the time or energy to find those perfect presents, and we end up, instead, in the mall with an armload of plastic toys made by under-age sweatshop workers an ocean away.

Imagine how much easier—and more pleasant—it would be if there were one place where we could find all of the responsibly produced holiday gifts we’d really like to buy!

Well, your church can provide the perfect locale for such a “mallternative” market, gathering compassionately and sustainably produced presents in a warm, welcoming, and central place.

But there’s more to just shopping ease at stake in this plan. In fact, there are several core reasons hosting such a market is in line with Christian values and kingdom purposes:

Compassion: The most compassionate gift—made with willing labor, natural and sustainably harvested resources, little waste production, and close to home—benefits a multitude of communities. Fair trade products are crafted by workers laboring in healthy conditions and for fair pay. Organic products are healthier for the earth they’re grown in and for the people who grow, eat, or use them. Locally grown or made products burn up fewer of creation’s resources to reach their destination, strengthen community ties, and bolster local economies. Giving gifts with these distinctions means giving abundantly and compassionately to your loved one and to the individuals, communities, and landscapes that produced the gift.

Community: It’s not easy to buy your nephew a handmade wooden toy for Christmas instead of the battery-operated plastic superhero he really wants. But when you’re not the only gift-giving weirdo, when your church community, local friends, and family have the opportunity to learn about and purchase gifts in similarly responsible ways, a network of support develops and gift-giving expectations and possibilities begin to change.

Commission: Hosting a holiday market provides your church with the opportunity to reach out to your local community. From selling the wares of local artisans to inviting neighbors to a unique shopping experience, a holiday market opens your church’s doors and welcomes everyone not only into a friendly, more responsible shopping atmosphere than the mall, but also into the possibility of a living relationship with a loving God.

A holiday market can be as big or as small an event as is appropriate for your church, but here are some basic steps toward making it a success:

Build a Team
After consulting with and gaining approval from the appropriate individuals or committees in your church, recruit a team to enhance every aspect of the holiday market:

  • Communications – Designate leaders to take responsibility for reaching out to your church and the wider community through posters, Web postings, etc. to draw a crowd to the market.
  • Logistics – From determining the location of the market to breaking down tables and cleaning up afterwards, planning and executing the event will depend on the work of some organized folks with good initiative and leadership skills.
  • “Buyers” – Recruit individuals with a good eye for merchandise and an awareness of vendors you can work with to acquire products your community members will want. Although these volunteers won’t actually be buying merchandise, they will be seeking it out and attracting vendors the market where their products can be profitably sold.
  • Volunteers – Directing traffic, setting up and breaking down the market, serving refreshments, and acting as sales associates are just some of the volunteer positions you’ll want filled by happy, helpful members of your church family to make the market a rich experience for visitors.

Make Space
Choose a location on your church campus, or at a local venue where you have established relationships (coffeeshop, community center, etc.), that can accommodate lots of foot traffic and the stalls or tables that will be set up for the market. Ideally this location would be within walking distance from where most of your community lives, eats, and shops, but if this is not possible, be sure there is enough parking available to accommodate a crowd.

Stock Up
Fill the shelves, tables, and stalls of your holiday market with gifts that are appealing to shoppers and beneficial to producers and

Beaded necklaces on display at a holiday market.

Your holiday market will feature beautiful, compassionately made gifts that can't be bought elsewhere. (cc image courtesy Mr.T in DC via flickr)

ecosystems around the world. The following are a few responsible organizations, companies, and other vendors you might consider attracting products from:

  • Ten Thousand Villages – Ten Thousand Villages is one of the world’s oldest and largest fair trade distributors. Contact Ten Thousand Villages to host a “Festival Sale” of items from more than 38 countries around the world.
  • Amani Ya Juu – Meaning “Peace from Above” in Swahili, Amani is an East Africa-based Christian non-profit that fosters community and reconciliation among refugees through women’s craft cooperatives. Contact Amani (http://www.amaniafrica.org/) to receive vibrant aprons, purses, handbags, jewelry, dresses, children’s toys, and more to sell at the market.
  • Local farmers, shops, and artisans – Feature the merchandise of local shops, the work of local artisans, or the produce of local farmers at your holiday market. Connect with local producers through www.etsy.com, craft groups and stores, libraries, art galleries, and non-profits that make products through job-training and art classes.

Spread the Word
Just as important as having great stuff to sell at your market is having great people there to buy it! Get the word out about the holiday market in plenty of time to catch those early holiday shoppers, and be sure to explain that this shopping experience is different—it really does spread holiday cheer.

  • Format – Big and small, online, in print, and by mouth, your church’s holiday market should be the talk of the town! In addition to traditional methods of advertising, consider developing a Facebook group or blog for the market, updating those forums as more merchandise is acquired. Be sure to make the location of the market highly visible to passersby on the day of the event—some serendipitous shoppers will be very pleased to stumble into your marketplace!
  • Forum – Newspapers, schools, libraries, coffee shops, bulletin boards, other churches’ announcements, community websites, etc. are all places where you should place advertisements for your holiday market.

Grand Opening

Christmas shoppers in mall.

Almost any Christmas shopping experience is better than this one! (cc image courtesy markhillary via flickr)

Market day! The fun really begins now.

  • Atmosphere – Be creative with the aesthetics of your marketplace and the special offerings that make the atmosphere a pleasant alternative to big box stores. Decorations, live music, free samples, childcare, and other graceful gestures will make the experience less about things and more about people.
  • Refreshments – What can’t you do in a department store? Munch on home-baked goodies! Nothing welcomes in the holiday-weary crowds like free food and warm drinks. Plus, it keeps the less-shopping-inclined happy, too.
  • Information – Have resources available to explain the purpose behind this alternative experience to holiday shopping madness, as well as information on your church and its commitment to compassionate stewardship of all that was made through Jesus Christ (John 1:3).
  • Personality – Remember that the impetus for the holiday market is to honor God and show compassion for all of his creation. Let your spirit reflect this intention as you serve refreshments, assist shoppers in making purchases, and ring up all of those fair trade, crafted-with-love goodies.

Related Posts at Flourish
Gifting Well
Curing the Black Friday Blues

Further Reading
Fair Trade USA
Ten Thousand Villages

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tracey November 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Such a fabulous and life giving way to do the Christmas chaos! Thanks for all the details on how to pull this off. I hosted one of these last year in my home and people still talk about it. Not the products but the chance to help. This is what people remember and what makes a difference. People want to be connected to something bigger than they are and this is such a marvelous way to do just that! Thanks for the ideas, I re-tweeted them today!

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