There’s nothing quite like fellowship to help bring the holidays closer to the heart and hearth. For more than half a century, the Reformed Church of New Paltz, situated on historic Huguenot Street, has hosted an annual Christmas Fair, fashioning gifts, repurposing decorative items, baking homemade jellies and jams, pies and cookies.
As with most things, last year the holiday fair did not take place, due to COVID-19 concerns, creating one of many small ruptures in the community calendar. This year, however, the congregation brought the craft back to Christmas, with dazzling displays of artisan work.
On Friday, December 3 at 5 p.m., early birds or evening owls could get an early tour of the Church’s offerings. There was a plethora of fresh pine wreaths, decorated with everything from traditional velvet ribbons to pinecones, silver stars and a bit of bittersweet to give a splash of seasonal color. With the smell of pine in the air and people mingling about the Fireside Room, there was a tangible feeling of joy and marvel in the small things: a pair of knitted blue gloves or a pastel-striped baby sweater with ladybug buttons.
Barbara Lane pointed to a set of six trees that were all decorated with handmade ornaments for sale to the general public. “We started this a few years ago, where we’d offer people in the congregation the chance to ‘adopt a tree’ for the fair,” she explained. “That way each tree has a theme, and someone or a group of people are responsible for those particular ornaments.” She and her friend Kevin Cook had a vintage tree with all kinds of retro-colored bulbs in bright pink and green and aqua blue, decorated with ribbons and rhinestones and beaded tassels. “I learned so much from Kevin,” she said, “and it was so fun. It turned out to be part treasure hunt as we looked for vintage ornaments and handmade paper to make the [Japanese] fan ornaments with.”
Congregation member Nancy Owen’s tree was almost picked clean of ornaments after the first hour. She had taken iconic images of New Paltz, like the Mohonk Mountain House, the Jewett Farm on Huguenot Street, Jenkins and Luekens Orchards or even the Bistro and Water Street Market, and shellacked them onto wooden ornaments that hung from a candy-cane hook. There was another tree dedicated to acorns, with felted acorns, glass marbles affixed to acorn tops.
“This is all about people getting together and having that sense of camaraderie and fellowship and providing this gift to the public, which it really is. These items are all homemade and with such skill,” said Lane.
The creativity seemed to be brimming over from every corner, with crocheted hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, baby clothing and handbags. There were also handwoven bowls, hotplates and pants from Uganda, along with handcarved giraffes and serving platters. “Uganda was devastated by the AIDS epidemic and AOET [the AIDS Orphan Education Trust] helps to sell these beautiful items. And then we send it all back to the villages that were so wiped out by the disease,” said Michelle Phillips, who was working a table at the fair with her daughter Arianna Phillips. Their uncle Glenn Phillips went on several missions to Uganda to help build and fund schools and medical clinics, bring over doctors and nurses and teachers to help educate and work on prevention of the AIDS virus. “We’re part of this [Reformed Church of New Paltz] congregation, but this is a nationwide organization,” she explained. According to AOET, there were 2.6 million children orphaned during the AIDS epidemic in Uganda (www.aoetusa.com).
There were also tables filled with homemade jams and apple butter, as well as pumpkin breads and homemade chocolates. Down the hallway of the Education Building was an “Adopt-a-Snowman” for Family of New Paltz’s shelter. There was an array of snowmen and snowwomen, from cloth to wooden to ceramic, and each one could be bought for a donation that would go directly to Family’s program to help find safe and adequate housing for those who are temporarily without, due to any number of circumstances.
To make sure that children had the opportunity to do a little shopping for their loved ones, the Youth Choir had a “Build-a-Stuffed-Animal” room in which kids could choose a stuffed animal and dress it, decorate it and put their own signature style on it to put under the tree. Across the hall was the Ghost of Christmas Past Room, filled with all kinds of almost-new or gently used holiday decorations, including wrapping paper, bags, ornaments, cookie platters, lights, lawn ornaments, giant origami stars and porcelain teacups and saucers with angel motifs. The cost? A donation to the youth choir with whatever you had or wanted to give.
Marlene and Joel Alfieri were helping to run the Repurpose Room and were cracking jokes and chatting up everyone who came in. “There are lots of treasures in here,” said Marlene. “But only three people in at a time!”
“We’ve been members of the Church for about eight years now,” said Joel. “Most of our friends are Church friends.”
“They’re such a loving and caring congregation,” added Marlene. “We fit right in here!”
Besides having Soup on the Stoop at 6 p.m. on Friday night and a live concert in the Church Sanctuary with Jason Clinton’s Big Blue Band, there were dozens of shoppers taking advantage of the bazaar-themed night hours of Twice Blessed, a thrift store run by the Church that has more quality goods, vintage glassware and dinnerware and bargains per square foot – including $4 pairs of ice skates – than most secondhand shops combined.
People drifted past the decoupaged glass lanterns outside with their arms full of wreaths and used holiday bags filled with treats and a hint of the holidays. And there was still a full day of Christmas Fair activities waiting for early risers on Saturday, December 4.