By Naa Dedei Coleman and Kaitlyn Riggio
BU News Service
Christmas carols played from speakers and festive tchotchkes hung in a few stalls where artisans had come to sell them. Items on sale ranged from sculptures made from old farm implements, such as the tyrannosaurus wrench, to candles with unusual scents like cornbread and bacon.
The festive cheer in the World Trade Center filled with artisans from the New England area belied the somber recognition that it was the last year the event will be hosted in the state. In 2020, the event is set to be held in Connecticut and be rebranded as the New England Christmas Festival.
Founder Jackie Ralston attributed this move to the planned reconstruction of the Seaport area, which starts next year. The reconstruction caused the festival to search for another location, but Ralston said she had trouble finding a facility in Massachusetts with the appropriate conditions to hold an event of this magnitude.
“I did talk to the Boston Convention Center and that wasn’t going to work for us,” Ralston said. “It came to a point in time when progress has taken over the waterfront district and we had to find another location. And I can’t even find something that has this square footage with this kind of parking in the suburbs in Massachusetts.”
Next year, the festival will be held at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.
Ralston started the Boston Christmas Festival 33 years ago to bring artisans together to sell to a large audience. She said her mission is “to create an outlet for American artisans.”
This year’s event hosted 350 artisans who crafted all kinds of novelties, from beauty decor and food. Ralston said when she first organized the festival she went all over New England searching for artisans with creative, original, well-made crafts offered at a good price point.
Ralston is positive about the future of the event even though it’s moving to an unfamiliar space. As of last weekend’s events, she said she had sold 50% of the exhibition slots for next year. “I’m very happy with where we are,” she said.
Some artisans like John McGann from Dancing Bear Designs have already registered for next year’s festival in Connecticut. McGann was at his stall on Friday selling decorative tassels made by his wife, Martha. He hopes next year’s festival will be good as this one.
“This has been such a good and well-attended show that that’s a little scary,” he said. “But we’ll see how it goes next year.”
Although Ralston and some exhibitors are excited about the new prospect, others, including artisans and visitors are skeptical about the move.
Emma Peacock, of Saugus, was at the festival this year with her family as part of their annual tradition. “I just love Christmas,” she said. “And I just think everything is so happy around here.”
She had heard about the festival moving and said she was concerned she and others would be unable to go because they would have to purchase a hotel room.
One of the stalls at the festival was that Liberty Farm and Forge which was manned by John Liberty. The artisan was selling sculptures crafted from old metal tools and parts. A first time exhibitor at the festival, Liberty was unsure about whether he’d be at next year’s event because the festival is already quite a trek for him coming from Bangor, Maine.
Shirley Charette of Rainbow Glass said her business has been at every Boston Christmas Festival, but she would not be at the event next year because of the distance from her home in North Hampton and a scheduling conflict.
Another attendee Greg Kaminski, from Rhode Island, was hopeful that the move would be good for the vendors. “There’s more people and they’ll be drunk from drinking and be looking to spend some of their gambling money,” Kaminski said.
“It’s a new chapter. I know we’re very excited about it,” said Ralston. “Goodbye to 33.”
Learn more about Boston Christmas Festival on their website.