SOMERS POINT — The finishing touches are just about done and the 73rd annual Charity League Christmas Mart will open its doors in a few days, continuing a tradition that dates back several generations.
When the doors open on the Christmas Mart at 10 a.m. at Greate Bay Country Club there will be of course the Charity League pins, fixings, stockings, tree skirts and gourmet treats. The tradition began in 1947 when the first Christmas Mart opened in an Atlantic City storefront. According to Charity League history, members attended at holiday event at the DuPont Hotel in Wilmington, Delaware where shops sold fancy items along with homemade treats. It was a huge success so they brought the concept to Atlantic County.
For all the years, the funds raised at the Christmas Mart have helped local women and children. The Charity League remains loyal to that mission today.
One of the highlights of the annual Christmas Mart is the big reveal of the annual Christmas pin. The design remains a guarded secret until the opening of the mart. More than 5,500 of the sequined pins have been sewn by hand by the members of the Charity League, according to league President Judy Kelly Dale. Each sequin and each bead are stitched into place to create the holiday favorite. Each member makes more than 200 pins each year and they take nearly an hour to complete just one. Many of the pins are presold, orders are taken for the following year’s pin at The Mart. They have become such collectors’ items that they are ordered sight unseen for the following year. The 2018 pin was a joyful wreath set off with Swarovski crystals. This year’s pin will be unveiled at 10 a.m. Dale said there are 1,000 pins available for sale. There are also a limited number of prior year's pins available for collectors.
The Fixings Crew has created some magical ornaments for this year. Each one is handmade and are fun holiday themes. The group comes up with new designs each year that add a some whimsy to the Christmas tree and frequently sell out.
The Christmas Mart co-chairs are Annamaria Milhous, of Brigantine, and Fran Kraus, of Egg Harbor Township. They oversee all of the planning for The Mart. Mary Alice Vesper and Carolyn Hoevler have served as the co-chairs of The Shops committee. They have brought in nine new vendors to this year’s Under the Mistletoe-themed mart including KB Kreations, James Andrew Designs, Gypsy Lane Designs, People-People, Milk Truck Vintage, 7311 Ventnor, Wayward Gardener, Lucy the Elephant, and Mud Girls Studios.
Charity League members have done a lot of sewing in the last few months but they have also done a lot of baking — make that a tremendous amount of baking. According to Dale they baked 19,076 spritz cookies and 980 breads in 13 flavors such as lemon tea, blueberry pound, cranberry nut, sour cream chocolate chip and whiskey walnut, just to name a few. There are also raffles for things such as golf outings, an American Girl doll, gift baskets and more.
Since the very first meeting of Charity League, they have operated with the motto “Cum Privilego Servimus” which translates “With Privilege, We Serve.” The money raised at the Christmas Mart will stay in Atlantic County and all of the work the women have done will help other women and children. According to Dale, last year they were able to donate $150,000 to the charities the members support: Atlantic City Day Nursery, Avanzar (formerly the Atlantic County Women’s Center), Covenant House, Center for Family Services and the Donny Fund.
Dale, like the other members of Charity League are committed. “I continue to be a part of Charity League, because it makes me feel like I have a sense of purpose. Knowing that the hundreds of hours that I sew, bake, attend meetings etc. culminate in October with a huge check for our charities, makes it all worthwhile. The bonus of being a part of Charity League are the members ... the camaraderie of the ladies. I have made lifelong friendships. It is a wonderful group of women,” Dale said.
The hours of the 73rd annual Charity League Christmas Mart are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23 at Greate Bay Country Club, 901 Somers Point-Mays Landing Road.
There is free parking and the Park Room is open for lunch, dinner and snacks.