Union Square’s Holiday Market ushers in seasonal spirit

With Thanksgiving leftovers now dwindling, many New Yorkers have already turned their attention to the winter holidays.

And nothing defines the holidays in the Big Apple quite like festive outdoor markets.

The Union Square Holiday Market is one such symbol of the season, which has made its return after a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Luring potential customers and tourists in with its Christmas village aesthetic, the buffet of businesses boasts some 160 vendors that flog an almost overwhelming stock of gift ideas. From artwork, crafts, home accessories, jewelry, and even food, such as vegan and vegetarian treats, the retail space aims to cater to both the return of tourism and native New Yorkers alike.

Wicked Heathens jewelry display. Photo by Dean Moses
Tis the season for holiday shopping. Photo by Dean Moses

Hosted by UrbanSpace, a lasso of fairy lights and suspended tinsel showcase the seasonal spirit, but despite the warm, inviting glow the month ahead is not an easy one for workers catering to the market’s hundreds of visitors.

Father and son duo, Aaron and Eddie Zhu happily prepared their display at their booth United Leather as tiny snow flurries trickled down just one hour before customers flooded through the makeshift shopping area. 

“It’s great to be back,” Aaron Zhu said. “I think this place is very beautiful, but it’s also a lot of hard work.”

Aaron Zhu showcased products from his family’s business, United Leather. Photo by Dean Moses
A customer tries on handcrafted jewelry. Photo by Dean Moses

Waking up early to prepare, both men use a portable heater to stave off the cold. Still, they were glad to be back in Union Square, last year they took part in the Bryant Park Holiday Market. The family-owned business began in 1997, and for the past 20 years they’ve sold their leather wares at small market events and fairs. 

Stephen Duffy can attest to the hard work it takes to both create and sell his products, which are all self-created etchings prints and originals. With a hulking 4,000 etchings, Duffy was likewise grateful to be back on Union Square sharing his art with the world. 

Artist Stephen Duffy outside of his booth, Duffy’s Gallery. Photo by Dean Moses
Vendors were happy to be back. Photo by Dean Moses

During the pandemic, Duffy continued to create his artwork from Florida where he was forced to dig into his savings until he could recoup income by selling his items at markets. He has been partaking in the Union Square Holiday Market alone for the past 25 years. 

“It’s a good place to share my work,” Duffy said, showcasing a print and stating his etchings are developed using the same technique as Rembrandt. Duffy considers himself more of a painter; however, etchings are how he makes his living as an artist.

While the market is about earning a living for entrepreneurs, it is more of a magical experience for those weaving their way between the stalls.

The Union Square Holiday Market was a spectrum of colors and festive cheer. Photo by Dean Moses
Families visited the Union Square Holiday Market. Photo by Dean Moses

Miranda Escobar and Christian Santiago both moved into the East Village after graduating from St. John’s University and decided to shop for holiday decorations to adorn their new apartment. 

“I think it’s exciting especially with the year I feel like everyone’s had. It’s just nice to be able to feel Christmas, you know? Walk around and everything,” Escobar said. 

“The second it started snowing this morning and we came out like wow, it’s winter right here. So, it has put you in the Christmas mood,” Santiago added, “I’m excited to be here and take in all of the festivities.” 

The Union Square Holiday Market will take place until Dec. 24, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Freya shows off two puppet dolls her parents purchased for her at the Union Square Holiday Market. Photo by Dean Moses
The Union Square Holiday Market in all of its splendor. Photo by Dean Moses
Visitors were able to try an assortment of scrumptious macaroons. Photo by Dean Moses