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Slow shopping isn’t just organic, it’s good for you.

It’s a lot better than heading to the mall, anyway. Holiday highway traffic and box store crowds are hard on your health. Take a look at Black Friday, with its long tradition of Cabbage Patch Kid stampedes and Tickle Me Elmo crazes. This year shoppers didn’t hit stores in their usual rabid fashion, though. Black Friday sales rose only 0.5 percent higher in 2009, even as Americans spent $10.66 billion the day after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday brought up online purchases by 14% from 2008, indicating people stayed indoors after turkey day, pointing-and-clicking.

Let Oakland suggest a more festive alternative. Whether you wore black or plaid last Friday, this week bring out the green; find holiday gifts made and sold in Oakland. You’ll get out, stretch your legs (earning you an egg nogg) and see the streets decked out in holiday decor. Crisp air and sparkling lights beckon more brightly than the glow of a computer screen.

In a time of year when instances of road ragers and QVC sales increase, shopping locally will lead you to the perfect gift in little time. And it will help keep your neighbors in business. Here are some spots to check out…

December 5–6:

Holidayland Reception
Blank Space and Compound galleries continue their Paul Bunyan-themed artist sale, featuring the artwork of over 100 local artists, designers and craftspeople. In case you missed the sale launch last week, stop by for Oakland Art Murmur this Friday and take your picture with Paul’s ox Babe; your $5 mug shot goes to support Oakland high schools. Also in store for First Friday are tamales by Tina Tamale of La Borinquena. Sip on Mexican Hot Chocolate, munch on a green bean tamale and peruse the fine art for sale. Emily Sevier creates ornaments to wear on site.
Reception: Fri., Dec. 4, 6 p.m.–10 p.m., Sale through Dec. 20, Blankspace Gallery, 6608 San Pablo Ave., 510-547-6608,

CCA Holiday Fair
Students and alumni of the California College of the Arts, will turn the campus into an arts bazaar Saturday morning. Have your pick of original paintings, jewelry, textiles, paper media and more. As you browse, enjoy complimentary jazz and treats.
Sat., Dec. 5, 11 a.m.–2:40 p.m., California College of the Arts 5212 Broadway,,

Piedmont Avenue Tree Lighting Ceremony & Holiday Stroll
Merchants along one of the city’s oldest business districts show some holiday flair for the shopping season. L’Amyx sells its quality teas (and accoutrements) at a 10–25 percent discount, and feature musician Michael Grandi plays jazz guitar and Cascada de Flores some Cuban folk tunes from 6 p.m.–10 p.m. The tree lighting ceremony (one of three scheduled in Oakland this week) begins the festivities, near the clock tower towering over the Mexican-American diner, J’s Hamburger & Such.
Sat., Dec. 5, 5 p.m. to closing, 41st St. and Piedmont Avenue,

Annual Pottery and Craft Sale
Studio One Art Center offers the best of both worlds during the giving season: gifts and a good cause. Purchase any art piece and all the proceeds go to fund Oakland’s youth programming.
Sun., Dec. 6, 12 p.m.–4 p.m., 365 45th St., 510-597-5027,

Fourth Annual Holiday Reception & ArtWalk
Back in the days when corporate plants dominated the landscape, the factory workers used to jangle their pay in-pocket, earning the neighborhood the name “Jingletown.” These days the arts drive the industry here instead of Ford Motor Company, and the products are more climate-friendly. Don’t miss photographer Jan Watten‘s portraits, Sarah Swell‘s metal-wrought jewelry or the Institute of Mosaic Art, whose gorgeous tile murals tag the warehouses on Chapman Street. Download an ArtWalk map here.
Reception: Fri., Dec. 4, 6 p.m.–9 p.m.; Gallery 4:20, 420 Peterson St.; ArtWalk: Dec. 5–6, 12–13, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., when you’ve reached the intersection of Peterson and Ford streets, you’re in the epicenter of ArtWalk,

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December 12–13:

Holiday Buy Night
Pro-local Oakland Unwrapped and Oakland Grown are just two of the merchant organizations sponsoring this “Mall-ternative” to box store shopping. Products at this evening fair have more variety than a box of See’s candy, with everything from candles to kayaks for sale. Linden Street Brewery keeps customers warm with the launch of its Bleeding Heart Lager, a name that characterizes the most die-hard of Oaklanders.
Dec. 10–11, 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Jack London Market, 55 Harrison St.,

Holiday Gifty Art Sale
The Crucible, largely responsible for the upsurge in the Oakland’s art scene, hosts more than 70 Bay Area artisans for this annual gift fair. Each booth standing on their 56,000 square foot space holds new surprises without the high retail prices. Also, sale-goers see demonstrations of what makes the Crucible tick year-round; glass blowing, metal casting and blacksmithing demonstrations wow crowds (11 a.m.–3 p.m.), between live performances and Santa’s appearance (1 p.m.).
Dec. 12–13, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., 1260 7th St.,

Winter Arts Fair
Join Mercury 20 gallery to select artfully rendered pottery, mixed media, tote bags, jewelry and more. One of the several artists to participate is Chela Fielding, who brings her mixed media to the sale. One of her installation pieces, the charming and stark “Memory Drawers,” was pictured in a book called “Memory Boxes” by Anna Corbin. The hidden objects give the work a nostalgic feel, like a well-loved advent calendar. No chocolate Santa Clauses here, though. Cheer and refreshments however will be served.
11 a.m.–5 p.m., 25 Grand Ave., 510-701-4620,

Second Annual Temescal Holiday Skate & Stroll
The outdoor ice skating rink takes center stage at this neighborhood fair, with sales proceeds benefiting Good Cents for Oakland and the Emerson School. Once you’ve reprised “The Nutcracker” on ice, peek into the charming stores in the Temescal. All weekend long, hear carolers and dunk candy canes in hot chocolate. On Sunday, artist Mark Brest van Kempen unveils his city-sponsored art series—“Views of the Greenbelt”—sculptures that reflect the flora and fauna of the Rockridge-Temescal neighborhoods.
Dec. 12–13, 12:30 p.m.–4:30 p.m., Telegraph Avenue and 49th Street,

Local Love
Manifesto Bicycles is just one of the retailers spicing up 40th Street for holiday consumption. On Saturday it fetes 40th Street with the Local Love collective, a band of block merchants, including the Rowan Morrison Gallery, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records and the city’s premier mag shop: Issues.
Dec. 12, 6 p.m.–9 p.m., 40th Street and Broadway, 510-595-1155,

Fourth Annual Holiday Reception & ArtWalk
Back in the days when corporate plants dominated the landscape, the factory workers used to jangle their pay in-pocket, earning the neighborhood the name “Jingletown.” These days the arts drive the industry here instead of Ford Motor Company, and the products are more climate-friendly. Don’t miss photographer Jan Watten‘s portraits, Sarah Swell‘s metal-wrought jewelry or the Institute of Mosaic Art, whose gorgeous tile murals tag the warehouses on Chapman Street. Download an ArtWalk map here.
ArtWalk: Dec. 5–6, 12–13, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., when you’ve reached the intersection of Peterson and Ford streets, you’re in the epicenter of ArtWalk,

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Out-of-town & Ongoing:

Renegade Craft Fair
Oaklandish represents The O in SF with its line of pop-historical wear. This homegrown outfit makes the best threads for those tapped into Oakland’s cultural underbelly. And Oaklandish is just one of hundreds more Bay Area vendors setting up shop at Fort Mason, which hosted the wildly successful Slow Food Festival two summers ago. Renegade’s combination of small businesses and big markets provide ample tasting of the region’s indie art.
Dec. 19–20, 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Fort Mason Center, Herbst Pavilion, San Francisco

Berkeley Holiday Artisans Open Studios
This recurring gallery crawl has an Oakland Art Murmur feel, and this winter it comes in holiday dressing. A self-guided tour leads you through every type studio shop and material imaginable, from leather to glass to semi-precious stones.
Dec. 5–6, 12–13, 19–20, Berkeley, 510-845-2612,

Holiday Warehouse Sale
Fair trade goods are in abundance at this warehouse sale. It’s hosted by the World of Good, an organization and think-tank that works to improve living conditions for women living on less than $2 a day. World of Good helps millions of women and adolescent girls in the developing world. You can help by purchasing a gift at the sale; items are as little as $5 and discounts as great at 90%.
Dec. 5–6, 9 a.m.–6 p.m., 6315 Doyle St., Emeryville,

Oakland Artisan Marketplace
For those who miss this year’s slow shopping events, swing by this marketplace year-round. Each weekend Oakland artisans open up their folding tables and display their wares. More often than not, you’ll find Paula Chan among the vendors; her line includes handcrafted jewelry and frame-worthy cards and she’s always working on something new.
Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. at Frank Ogawa Plaza; Sat., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. at Jack London Square; Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. at Jack London Square,

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It is autumn in the Glenview. Dried sycamore leaves collect at the foot of red cement stairwells and crack underfoot. Spiders have spun webs all over yards up and down Park Boulevard, almost as thick as the store-bought cobwebs I see clinging to hedges next to dummy witches. The summer warmth makes its exit in fits and starts as the crisp air settles in. The holiday season, a marathon of sugar binges and punched-up cider, begins with Halloween this weekend. Here’s what Oakland has in store:


The Oakland Museum Honors Dia de los Muertos in 2008

In the Glenview: Tomorrow on All Hallows Eve, Glenview Elementary will host its annual block party from 11 a.m.–2 p.m., on Tiffin Road. Bring a dish to share and meet the neighbors. Take part in the food, games and in making a financial pledge to the school; costumes, like donations, are encouraged but not required. Later on that evening on Greenwood Avenue, a spooky puppet show and yard haunt is rumored to start at nightfall. Glenfriend John has created a Flickr group so Oaklanders can share their photos of the festivities.

In West Oakland: Also for Halloween, check out “FrankenSk8,” an event held in Town Park. It’s Oakland’s premiere skating venue brought to you by Hood Games, a community grown out of East Oakland. They successfully convinced the city to carve out a space in deFremery Park for skaters to work on their skills and officially opened in July. Bring your board or simply scope the local talent from 12 p.m.–3 p.m.

On Piedmont Avenue: This neighborhood will be all things Samhain from dawn ’til dusk. The merchants association will throw its 23rd Annual Piedmont Avenue Halloween Celebration from 9:45 a.m., when patrons can see free cartoons at the Landmark Theatre. After the parade and a trick-or-treat at Issues, visit Mountain View Cemetery. It rests at the top of Piedmont Avenue and hosts a pumpkin festival, where kids can count on a free pumpkin, treat bag and plenty of time in the jump house.

Closing out the evening is a free screening of “Nightmare Before Christmas” at the Video Room. The film runs in the yet-to-rented storefront beside the store’s current location. Prizes go to the best kids costume:


Downtown: For the cocktail crowd, The Den serves up a “Thrillerthon” costume ball this Halloween. Give-away treats at the Halloween bash range from dinner certificates at local restaurants to free drinks at future Den parties. DJ Epic and DJ Mpenzi will spin in honor of Haitian Gede and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” explaining one of the costume contest categories: Best MJ Look-alike. Also performing is the Kendra Kimbrough Ensemble and the El Wah Movement Caribbean Dancers. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. with tickets at $5 before 10 p.m. and $10 thereafter.

Dia de los Muertos in The Fruitvale: Oakland’s best festival is arguably Dia de los Muertos. In past years its attendance has surpassed many Dia de los Muertos celebrations across the country. This year, it was almost in danger of dying out but was resurrected in time for Sunday, November 1, thanks in part to Oakland’s Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente. Every year on International Boulevard, the entire Fruitvale skyline transforms with rainbow-colored paper prayer flags. Sugar skulls and sweet pan de muertos pile high. But front-and-center for food concessions are from La Borinqueña Restaurant & Specialty Shop in Old Oakland; Tina “Tamale” Ramos represents with family recipes going back for generations—hopefully with some of their tasty green chile and cheese tamales.

This year more than 25 altars spill out onto the street from the ‘Vale Transit Village. A portion of them are provided by the Oakland Museum, which is currently closed for renovations. Still, they make an appearance at the festival with an interactive display and make a virtual ofrendas online. The dead fest begins at 10 a.m. with music from local Latino bands, cultural crafts and games, and shutters at 5 p.m. To get there, you could take the bus or BART to the Fruitvale station. From the escalator, follow the scent of marigolds and you’ve arrived.


Mictecacihuatl, or the Aztec's Lady of the Dead

Mas Muertos: Many peoples observe the dead with rituals. The Haitians, Celts and Native Americans each had their method of reaching for loved ones in the Otherworld. There’s also curious overlap across cultures. The Greeks spoke of Persephone presiding over the dead, and ushering departed souls to their new residences. The Aztecs, for their part, personified this “Lady of the Dead” as the goddess Mictecacihuatl. According to the story, she dies in childbirth the Underworld, where she and her husband Mictlan watch over the bones of those passed. This ensures that the lifeless bones could, if needed, build a people for some future world.

The Oakland Museum has online resources on the Day of the Dead that’s worth a peek. Under the Bay Area events is a healthy book list, featuring the indispensable “Digging the Days of the Dead,” by Juanita Garciagodoy. She writes somewhat academically but lucidly about the origins of the rites and looks at death as viewed today. It’s a great read for information and the index contains poems like the one by an ancient American poet, Cuahcuauhtzin:

My heart longs for flowers anxiously.
I only suffer with songs,
I only essay my songs,
on the earth, I am Cuahcuauhtzin.
With anxiety I want flowers,
may they rest in my hand,
I am wretched!
Where will we go
that we may never die?
Although I were jade,
although I were gold,
I will be melted, I will be perforated
in the crucible.
My heart, I Cuahcuauhtzin,
am a wretched man!

In her chapter “The Lively Skeletons,” Garciagodoy examines the oxymoronic nature of the Mexican holiday. She writes, “The calaveras are working, self-reflexively making offerings to the dead, socializing, or displaying themselves. Whatever they are doing, what may be most obvious about these skeletons is that they are not dead.” Skulls shrouded in vibrant colors walk a line between life and death. They do not dwell on last rites but on timeless rituals. In this realm, life seems the most brilliant.

One could make a similar argument for Oakland: it may be haunted by wayward ghosts, but it’s on the cusp of renewal. The city lets out its closeted skeletons every fall and takes stock of the living and the dead. A dark subject and bright colors show the beauty of life in stark contrast. And fittingly, Oakland shines.

I’m a big fan of urban gaming. Before the city of Oakland cracked down on Urban Capture the Flag matches, I used to put on war paint and run around Frank Ogawa Plaza. Gamers of all ages darted around City Hall trying to out-fox the other team into losing their flag. I remember one guy used to run for enemy territory yelling, “Jesus is my Savior!” and when he got thrown in jail, he’d climb the bench and blow on this bone horn, Braveheart-style. The characters came out, for sure.

This weekend, crowds will gather for another temporary take-over of public space. The Great San Francisco Pillow Fight will throw its annual free-for-all for Valentine’s Day, as a peaceful way to express one’s “lovey-rage.” It has attracted over a thousand gamers armed with goose down over the years. The plentiful online video footage reveals the hilarity in full.


Director Maya Gurantz, who has worked with the Shotgun Players, once told me that “the Bay Area’s biggest export is the party.” The pillow fight is one of these; at least, it’s the most popular. And it’s peaceful, as long as you follow the rules, stated in the above poster. If there’s rain, put your pillow in a plastic bag. Oh, and be sure that you bring only pillows filled with natural materials (like cotton, hemp, and down) and not synthetics which will wash into the Bay and harm marine life. And as the Urban Capture the Flaggers have done, leave no trace. So clean up those feathers.

On the Oakland side of things, I’m going to bust out my bonker ball skills with 4 Square East Bay on Thursday. They hold court in the Rockridge BART parking lot on Mondays now, too, even with in the cold season. It’s been awhile since I rolled a “high wire” at Joaquin Miller School (remember, A?). But I can’t miss an opportunity to show a random act of urban-ness.