Boston kicks off holiday season with craft festival

Boston Christmas Festival
The Boston Christmas Festival features a gingerbread house competition, money from which supports Housing Families, a nonprofit which provides services to families facing homelessness. / Photo by Patrick Leung

By Katie McCreedy, news staff

Christmas time in the city began at the Boston Christmas Festival at the Seaport Hotel last weekend, where thousands of guests and hundreds of vendors filled the hotel showroom with holiday decorations, treats and a gingerbread house competition.

The proceeds of the event, which was established nearly 30 years ago, will go to Housing Families, a nonprofit located in Malden, Massachusetts, that provides programming and shelter for the homeless.

“People came in droves this weekend and they stayed and they shopped and shopped,” said Florence Flynn, the director of the festival.

She said this year’s festival was particularly busy and that the Seaport Hotel has been a consistent and apt venue for their event. She also said the festival attracts shoppers of all ages and at all price points.

“It’s a nice way to get a special, unique present,” Flynn said.

Although the festival takes place the first weekend in November and seems far from Christmas, Flynn said the holiday shopping season is already in full swing for the festival’s attendees.

“People come and do all their shopping now so they can go into Thanksgiving and Christmas and enjoy the holiday season,” Flynn said.

Shannon Stoddard, the owner of Scarves by Shannon, has been a vendor at the festival for the last three years. Stoddard filled her stand with handmade scarves and accessories in a range of vibrant colors, all of which she knitted herself. Her store is based in Jamaica, Vermont, three hours outside of Boston.

“It’s a chance to get our products into the city, you don’t get that very often,” Stoddard said.

Evidenced by the thousands of shoppers who attended the event, people also feel November is prime time for holiday shopping. Many people came with their families, and young children darted through the festival, bombarding the stands selling massive eclairs and toy airplanes. A long line stretched down the entrance hallway of the festival for a stand selling homemade cannolis — some waited for 30 minutes to get their hands on the fresh pastry.

“November is a pretty common start for holiday shopping,” Stoddard said. “I think it’s about time, people usually plan ahead.”

One of the highlights of the festival was the expansive gingerbread house competition. Chefs and locals volunteer to create intricate gingerbread houses that local businesses purchase for either $500 or $1,000 to display inside their stores. Each house extended across an entire tabletop and contained delicate holiday designs and treats, with peppermint stick-lined walkways and gumdrop roofs.

Many children were in awe of the holiday spirit brought to life by the houses. The proceeds from the competition and from ticket sales also go toward Housing Families.

Stacia Silvia, the manager of strategic philanthropy and corporate engagement at Housing Families, said the proceeds help the foundation continue their efforts.

“We serve about 2,000 people per year and we prevent about 250 evictions per year,” Silvia said.

Brianna Ficaro, a junior at Marblehead High School in Marblehead, Massachusetts, volunteers her time every year to build a gingerbread house for the competition. She donated her first gingerbread house five years ago.

“I love that all of the money raised goes to a great cause,” Ficaro said. “I enjoy being able to do something I love and help others at the same time.”

Ficaro said it took two weeks to create the gingerbread house because it cracked as she was assembling it. But she persevered and recreated the gingerbread house over another week.

Patty Kelly, the outreach coordinator for Housing Families, said their organization is always looking for volunteers with any skill set.

“Volunteers can come and assist students with homework after school for one hour per week,” Kelly said.

Housing Families also coordinates arts and crafts projects for children, babysitting for parents while they participate in programs and a meal donation program that helps feed homeless families. The organization is always looking for student volunteers.

“I’m so happy to be able to give back, especially during the holiday season,” Ficaro said.

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