There are a few signs up for a Christmas Fair at St Lawrence Church next month. I has been a long time since I have been to one, and my memory of the last few doesn't encourage me to make an effort now.
They used to be a big deal, with serious crafts and specialty foods. Or did it just seem that way then, because what was on offer was generally better than one could get at home. Everyone had someone in the family that knitted sweaters, but at Christmas fairs the real experts got their wares out. Everyone made cookies or pies, but this would be the best of the best making cookies and pies. There would be musical groups at a separate stage, some of good talent. Supermarket cookies and pies weren't very good in those days. Your own family around the piano wasn't so hot. Plus, people put in more effort for the occasion. They might be able to do as well in June or September, and occasionally did, but in early December, it was all on display.
Was this mostly rural, town, and city churches? I don't think they have been as big in the suburban churches. Many of those were less ethnic, newer congregations, with fewer grandmothers and more working moms. And the store-bought foods, widespread recorded music, and even the handmade goods have become better quality and more available. Fairs are less magical now. Good cookies force out bad, but you can get both bad and good cookies at the store now, or send away for them.
Sometimes ethnic foods are revealed for what they really are, the worst parts of the animal or the make-do with the few available spices used in the old country, treasured for their nostalgia. Years ago Tracy ran into the pastor's wife just before Christmas, who excused herself as being in a hurry to get home and make lutefisk for her husband. My wife was aghast. "He likes it?" Lois paused with a serious look for some moments. "No," she finally allowed, "but it wouldn't be Christmas without it." I doubt many are making it now. Christmas seems to be getting on just fine without it. Without horrid jello-molded salads - creamy lime, with marshmallows and walnuts, for example. Or tree ornaments with styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners, and glitter.*
Unfortunately, the carols have gone as well, and that is sometimes more than I can bear to think of. We had been fanatics, singing all four verses in harmony on car trips. Our first two children know some. The two Romanians and the nephew, almost none. You don't build in nostalgia and tradition with teenage boys that easily. We put in our first force-feed of granddaughters and carols last year, and that will have some effect. But if Tracy and I were merely upper bell curve forty years ago, we are museum pieces now.
*One styrofoam ornament, the famed poodle ornament that is now copied and spread to friends and family, originated at a Lutheran Christmas fair. It was nearly discarded, among the last few unbought items, and fairly ugly. The woman clearing the table gave it to our five year old, who treasured it and insisted it be displayed prominently in the front every year. Some other tradition will have to arise at Christmases now. That one has probably gone beneath the waves.