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Confessions from a Crafts-Fair Sweatshop

Christmas crafting almost ruined my childhood

Audrey Broomfield with Santa’s helper, her then-neighbor Ed.
     From ages five through nine, I viewed the Christmas season with a mixture of delight and hesitation. There would be presents and cookies — and lots of work. As the child of a stay-at-home mom in a rural area in the 1990s, I became a worker in my mother and friend’s holiday craft sweatshop from the beginning of August well into November. 
    We gathered at her friend’s house to lay out our plan. The more difficult ornaments were made by the moms, but the cute and kitschy ones were easy enough to be tackled by the kids. 
     From angels made of old doilies and pinecone snowmen, the list went on and on. The three of us — myself, my younger brother and our friend Richie — toiled away dutifully until we were so bored we snuck outside to play.
      I would go to sleep with visions of googly eyes and pipe cleaners dancing in my head. 
      The craft show weekend was the worst torture for a small child.
      The fire hall was immense and had cement floors so it was drafty and cold. We would bundle up for the long days of hawking Christmas crafts.
      Because this was extra income, we were not allowed to buy anything. Because the fair was so large, we needed to stay close to the table and behave while our mothers worked.
       Santa’s visit on the final day was our mother’s bribery for good behavior.
       Sunday afternoon when all the tables had been packed and the car loaded, we dragged our mothers to Santa.
       I could feel myself buzzing with anticipation. I had been such a good girl this year … Scared to look up, I heard Santa ask, “Have you been a good girl this year?”
        I nodded furiously. Finally looking up, I saw, to my dismay, that this was not the Santa of movies and legends. This was my next-door neighbor Ed in a fake beard.
       Ed was considered pretty cool for an adult because he worked for ­Pepperidge Farms and would bring us breads and Goldfish crackers. My mother made everything from scratch, including our bread, so premade foods were a treat.
       I politely went along with the ruse until we were safely out of hearing range. Then I asked my mother, “Why was Mr. Ed pretending to be Santa?”
      “Santa can’t be everywhere at once, so he needs helpers. Kind, honest men like Mr. Ed,” she answered. “Can you think of a better person than him to be Santa’s helper?”
        “No,” I replied.
       My mother has since apologized for making my brother and me endure crafts and fairs, but some of those ornaments still decorate my tree. 
      And Mr. Ed still lives in the small town and probably still serves as Santa’s secret spy.