To the obvious reasons for finishing up (starting!?) your shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market — it’s convenient; the merchandise is spectacularly interesting; the dealers are really, really happy when you buy something — should be added the following: Wouldn’t you rather listen to rosy-cheeked students chant “No war with Iraq” from behind the Answercoalition.org table than to a department store recording of “The Little Drummer Boy”?
To make your fraught life a little easier, we combed the market — in the cold! In the snow! — for things that’ll please even the crankiest, most eccentric members of your extended family.
For the hopelessly optimistic: Perhaps it’s true that the giant sachets at Heaven Scent can alleviate the ills listed on the giant poster behind the display counter, a document alleging that when heated the pillows will cure, among other things, arthritis and migraines; when frozen, they’ll take care of nosebleeds and cold sores. In any case, the cushions, whose ingredients include something called yellow dock root, are covered in charming prints — tigers, owls, even lighthouses — and there was quite a crowd buying them the day we visited. “How do you make these?” a middle-aged woman was hectoring the dealer. “Can’t tell you that,” he answered, straining to be cheerful. “Just buy one, they’re only $13. What can you get in New York for $13?” Less complicated, though equally comforting, are the beeswax candles at Bluecorn Beeswax, where there were — wouldn’t you know it — candles shaped like ears of deep blue corn ($12, two for $20). If candle-corn doesn’t seem like enough of a gift, throw in a pink candle that resembles a brightly carved Ukrainian Easter egg. (Wrong holiday, but so what.)
For militant technophobes: Antiquarians who think Google is a mouthwash might go for a bookmark from Hookmarks, made of silvery wire that gives it the look of a single earring sized for an elephant. These are decorated with a variety of gewgaws, including cameos and cherubs ($16), and what might be ancient coins rendered in sterling silver ($36 to $40). For Con Ed haters, the votive candles in the May’s Arts booth are sunk into glasses decorated with what the owner calls “3-D stained glass.” Everything is made of recycled material — a lot of the glass is found in second-hand stores — and the results have an eerie loveliness ($25).
For New York boosters: Friends who wouldn’t think of donning an “I Love NY” T-shirt might nevertheless enjoy something from Forest Saver, where the stock includes desk accessories — journals, computer mice, picture frames — covered with recycled MTA maps ($10 to $20). “We’re called Forest Saver because we encourage mass transit,” explains the guy in the booth, who has a gold stud buried deep under his lower lip. At Tipton Antique Prints, the proprietress says she can’t keep pictures of Manhattan’s old Five Points neighborhood in stock these days — the release of Gangs of New York is causing a run on them. If you’ll settle for another locale, there are lots of prints available, including, the day we looked, an 1861 lithograph from Valentine’s Manual of Common Council depicting “the old cottage double house” (it was old even then) on Pitt Street between Broome and Delancey ($28).
For restless intellects: A company called the Unemployed Philosophers Guild (membership must number in the thousands) has merchandise that might cause a splash at a Christmas Eve bash on the Upper West Side. Freudian slippers — get it? — have the great man’s head attached to their fluffy tops ($24.95), a Van Gogh doll sports a detachable ear ($15.95), and a Virginia Woolf wristwatch ($19.95) features her famous profile and the legend “Time passes — we must wait for the future.”
For the hopelessly infantile: At the Art of Gifts, there is a pink plastic flying-pig music box that plays “Top of the World,” an item which may sound awful, but, in that way that flying swine can have, is actually completely winning ($18). For silly friends you only want to spend $3 on, Comically Kissed sells toothbrush holders shaped like walruses and pandas; if you’re willing to part with $15, there’s a yellow rubber ducky with a digital clock in his belly. A good deal more money is required for Kee-ka’s dancing dragon marionette, but then again, the beast is hand-crafted and has a ceramic head and a body reminiscent of a marabou boa, and someone you know may just be worth it ($40 to $80).
For the masochistically inclined: The $20 Birkenstock-like creations at Relaxation Station are lined with the same material as those beaded seat cushions taxi drivers favor. “Feel the amazing power of rejuvenating sandals,” the package boasts, but beware: It also warns that “a therapeutic discomfort may be experienced until one adjusts to the wooden beads.”
For the subtly sophisticated: The market offers plenty of velvet scarves and shawls, but we were taken by a rather more austere interpretation of glamour, in the form of a herringbone tweed shoulder bag at Kesef, which appears to be the soul of sobriety until you notice that its rigor is compromised by a single Chanel-ish tweed rose ($40).
For those who puzzle you beyond description: There are always hats. And scarves. And gloves. At a booth entitled Italianleathergloves.com, the goods are mostly black, but there are a few appealing deviations, like the red leather gloves decorated with white polka dots ($45). “All our gloves are from Italy,” says the guy in charge. “Even Ralph Lauren is in China now, but not us.” The fellow at Knit Designs, who happily models the $40 scarf-and-stocking hat combinations he sells, claims he makes everything himself. (When pressed, he admits he owns a knitting machine.) Whatever their provenance, they come in a rainbow of colors, they’re pre-packaged in boxes with big bows, and, if you think about it, who wouldn’t want a brand-new scarf and hat for a hard, cold winter like this one?