Middle East vendors give US holiday shoppers more options this Christmas

A Turkish-made ceramic amplifier for mobile phones has been one of best-selling items this holiday season, says a vendor. [Brooke Anderson/The New Arab]
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
23 December, 2022
Vendors and artists from the Middle East are increasing their presence in stores and online, giving holiday shoppers in the US the opportunity to buy high-quality authentic handmade products.

When Americans and other Westerners think of Christmas and holiday markets, what first comes to mind might be the long tradition of German and other northern European-style Christmas villages with mulled wine, gingerbread, and decorative crafts on display.

But a growing number of vendors from the Middle East, the birthplace of Christmas after all, are giving holiday shoppers more options for gifts, often with high-quality goods that would otherwise be difficult to find outside of the region.

Though they don't tend to be part of cities' official Christmas markets, they are holding their own events and making an impression.

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Earlier this month, Gizem Salcigil White, owner of the cafe Turkish Coffee Lady, held a holiday Bazaar in Alexandria in northern Virginia, where handmade scarves, ceramics and sweets were on display.

One of the more striking items was a large hand-painted ceramic piece akin to a phonograph, which then amplifies the sound from a mobile phone speaker.

The vendors, a local Turkish couple who runs a shop at the Versailles Art Gallery, say the amplifier is one of their most popular items.

"We wanted to show our culture... It's around the holidays. There was that feeling of warmth there"

They work with seventh-generation Turkish ceramic makers, who also make lamps from Turkish plates. Though they've almost sold out, and expect they won't get restocked until March, they say they're not going to rush the artists.

"They're not commercial. They're very picky about their quality," Abbas Shirr, who runs the shop with his wife Lada, tells The New Arab. "One thing I've learned is I can't push the masters to finish something."

Last week, Mina Jafari, an Iranian American artist based in Washington, DC, held a bazaar with artwork from the gallery Kucheh that she and her husband co-own, a chance to highlight Shab-e Yalda, a holiday in central Asia that commemorates the winter solstice. 

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In the four hours they were open, they attracted hundreds of people, possibly a sign that holiday shoppers are interested in seeing pieces that go beyond the standard fare.

"We wanted to show our culture," Jafari tells The New Arab. "It's around the holidays. There was that feeling of warmth there."

For those who do not have the opportunity to browse some of the Middle Eastern products in person, their shopping options are only a click away.

On the online crafts website Etsy, displays of Middle Eastern holiday products are easy to find. Palestinian shops sell nativity scenes made from olive wood and sheep's wool. 

Glassmakers sell Christmas tree ornaments with traditional patterns, and embroiderers sell tiny stitched cloth ornaments.

Among the traditional holiday crafts is a shop that has been appealing to people's seasonal humour. 

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A popular holiday sweater from Arabizi Bazaar, under the category of ugly Christmas sweater, is a sweatshirt of Santa Clause surrounded by snowflakes and pine trees, printed in a traditional Palestinian embroidery style. Above Santa is written Ho Ho Ho, written in Arabic script, which has proven popular among the US Arab diaspora.

The owners of the Etsy shop, husband and wife Ahmad and Jessica Al Jafari, have another sweatshirt with Christmas greetings in Arabic, as well as a range of mugs. But their bestseller the Santa sweater in Arabic. 

"I just go into Christmas mode. I wanted something I could wear here," Jessica Al Jafari, an American living in Amman with her Palestinian husband, tells The New Arab.

She credits her in-laws for their creative input into the shop. "The reactions have been really positive. It's a good conversation starter."

Brooke Anderson is The New Arab's Washington, DC correspondent. She did her BA in Geography of the Middle East at the University of London, SOAS, where she wrote a dissertation on water policy in Syria and Turkey. She previously spent five years in Damascus, where she studied Arabic and worked as a journalist and eight years in Beirut, where she mainly worked as a journalist. She has won awards for writing about police brutality in the US and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews