One of the giants of Maryland bazaars - the annual fundraiser at Stone Ridge, which last year netted about $54,000 for scholarships and school maintenance - is an event so widely anticipated that the school prints up a booklet like a sports program describing the school and advertising the booths.
This year the book sale committee rounded up 70,000 novels, paperbacks and first editions and set them out on tables which covered the gymnasium from wall to wall.
In the adjoining room, baked goods and potted plants vied for attention with left-handed accessories and skateboards on special - regularly $50; on sale $20.
Up in the main building, the parlors were turned into an art gallery, with some 400 pieces of art by 62 local artists.
The bazaar at Stone Ridge was actually phase two of a project that began two weeks earlier with an auction-dinner. For the right price, a bidder could walk off with lunches with Ted Kennedy, Tid O'Neill, Fritz Monsdale or Joe Califano; a week for two in Acapulco or two nights at the Madison Hotel; four tickets in the owner's box for the New York Yankees or tickets to the Caps, Bullets or Skins games.
The Stone Ridge bazaar was one of several held on a recent weekend. Many others are scheduled during the remaining weeks before Christmas.
Many are smaller with less grandiose goals. Bess Smith, co-chairman of the annual Hillandale bazaar, which benefits the Centers for the Handicapped in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, look for profits of perhaps $2,000.
This, however, was that more personal type of bazaar, where the notepaper, caps and mittens, and jars of ketchup and kosher dills and cantaloupe pickles and hot pepper jelly are laboriously and lovingly homemade.
A firm sense of humor also pervade this small bazaar, which wound its way through three rooms of an elementary school. The personal touch was in the modesty and affection of the handicapped men and women who found chairs for tired workers and carefully smoothed the handsewn comforters.
"This morning I was upset because everything wasn't the way I wanted," said Smith. "But then (the man playing) Santa Claus said, 'Why did you think you were going to be perfect?'"
The best bazaars in Washington's melting-pot society are th ones you can smell blocks away, the ones that are really excuses to put aside pre-holiday diets and plunge into exotic delicacies.The sharp, lemony smells of lamb and olives that wafted from the striped tents of Saint Sophia Cathedral at 36th and Massachusetts in the District have established that annual Greek feast as a favorite of veteran bazaar browsers.
Here you could run a gauntlet of trays to compare the soft, heavy texture of royal olives, the color of malted milk balls, to the firmer body and briny bite of the marinated "cracked" green olives, or the puckered Cretan fruit, or the huge, aromatic Calamatas from Peloponnesus.
Here too were the cheeses with names like music: kefalotiri, kasseri, feta and fontenella. And jars of taramosalata - caviar whipped with olive oil into a pale pink spread - and grape leaves, and pint boxes of hot green peppers. And licorice-flavored ouzo, and bottles of Greek beer and wine.
Great piles of chicken origanato, moussaka, menestra and shiskebob vanished during the three-day event, but the real stars were the pastries. Baklava, kadaifi, koulourakia and others, all with mouthfuls of syllables as big as the deserts themselves, are baked by the hundreds.
Like many bazaars, the Saint Sophia event is a fund-raiser for the church, which intends to build an education center on an adjoining lot.
The Christmas bazaar of the Hungarian Cardinal Mendszenty Society supports that organization's social programs for Boy Scouts, senior citizens and others.
Brilliant and crowded inside a placid stone building on the grounds of the Franciscan monastery in northeast Washington, the Hungarian bazaar included an exhibit of handiwork and art from private collections.
Arpad Sayko, a solid, humorous man who has lived here since 1937, waved his hand toward a manikin wearing a dress so heavy with embroidery that the black material underneath is almost obscured.
"In Hungary, there's no hanging around the drugstore," he joked. "The grandmother is the babysitter, and she starts by teaching the little ones how to thread a needle . . . then they're 50 or 60 years old and they can do that."
The food, as always, was a strong selling point - goulash, stuffed cabbage, chicken paprika - but the main attractions were the delicate Christmas tree ornaments made of blownout eggshells lacquered and hand-painted, and the more expensive porcelain ornaments made like the eggs.
Bazaars will be all over the metropolitan area from now until Christmas.