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The enduring appeal of the ugly Christmas sweater

Are they so bad, they're good?

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Tuesday, Dec 24, 2013 06:00 am

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  • SWEATER FAMILY – The Hembly family (left to right): Ryan, Ben, Josh and Jodie, have a collection of Christmas sweaters from which to choose.
    SWEATER FAMILY – The Hembly family (left to right): Ryan, Ben, Josh and Jodie, have a collection of Christmas sweaters from which to choose.
    Supplied photo
  • ANNUAL EVENT  Carrie and Gerald Blouin attend an ugly Christmas sweater party every year.
    ANNUAL EVENT Carrie and Gerald Blouin attend an ugly Christmas sweater party every year.
  • SEASONAL HANDIWORK  Donna Graham made this sweater, which earned her second place in the Gazette's Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.
    SEASONAL HANDIWORK Donna Graham made this sweater, which earned her second place in the Gazette's Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.

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Those who embrace the fun and festive tradition of a holiday sweater for, oh, say, all of December, or at least at holiday parties, school concerts or Christmas dinner, may take umbrage at calling it ugly – it's in the eye of the beholder, isn't it?

And it was anything but ugly for residents who entered the St. Albert Gazette's Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest, with bragging rights and a prize worth $1,000.

The sweaters' bright reds and greens, sparkles, baubles and dangly 3D bits—antlers, ornaments, wreaths, snowmen, light-up Rudolph noses – can be called loud and tacky, to be sure, but the ugly holiday sweater craze has actually become kind of cool, too.

There are ugly sweater holiday parties – even ugly sweater themed pop-up stores online (holidayrejects.ca) in Edmonton's Mill Woods Town Centre kiosk and at West Edmonton Mall – not to mention entire sections of the garb at Value Village and other thrift stores.

Morinville-area native Cory Christopher runs the Edmonton-based Christmas Market, and he not only champions the ugly Christmas sweater, he also holds workshops on the attention-getters, which he refers to as a yuletide sweater.

"I find the concept of tacky versus elegant interesting," said Christopher. "People begrudge the Christmas sweater, but they rejoice in it too, in a 'how ugly can it get' sort of way. I think it's nostalgia and tradition: pulling out the same sweater each year. It's really not just a piece of clothing. There's the greater meaning of spreading holiday cheer."

Christopher likens the tacky-or-tradition debate over Christmas sweaters to Santa himself, who some find a bit tacky and childish when it comes to decorating.

"I'm a Santa lover. There's magic to him. Like the sweater, it represents those good feelings of the holidays," he said.

It's a plausible explanation. Why else centre holiday parties around the ugly sweater, or hold contests to award the ugliest? St. Albert residents Carrie and Gerald Blouin attend their brother and sister-in-law's ugly Christmas sweater party every year, and said the hosts embrace the spirit the sweaters seem to represent, even taking their annual Christmas card photo donned in the gaudy garb.

"The best sweater I saw my brother wear had Santa flying on a goose," laughed Carrie. "These parties seem much more common now, so it's actually harder to find new sweaters every year. They are getting expensive."

Lucky then for Gazette contest winners the Hembly family, who had a collection of Christmas sweaters saved over the years to choose from.

"These sweaters weren't considered ugly years ago. They were just something everyone wore. It was a family thing," said Jodie Hembly, who with husband Ryan and sons Ben and Josh dug up a colourful assortment of sweaters.

"My husband's mom would buy a special sweater each year for Halloween, Christmas, even Easter. It just used to be the thing to do."

Whether we're laughing with or at the wacky wardrobe – jingle bells and all – it seems the holiday sweater isn't going anywhere.


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