Don't gaze directly into the bright, electric lights of Alma Davis' Christmas sweater. You may be blinded by its dazzling broadcast of holiday good cheer.
Mrs. Davis came from Atlanta to Baltimore with three of her four Christmas sweaters (and husband Jim) to join daughter Pat Garcia and her family for the holidays. At a Garcia gala last week, Mrs. Davis wore her battery-operated sweater with its own blinking "Happy Holidays" marquee.
And today, as she cruises Towson Town Center in quest of more Christmas sweaters, Mrs. Davis, 64, sports a cardigan fantasia replete with Santa, bells for buttons, gifts, a tree and an inordinate amount of holiday spirit. "It is our savior's birthday, so why not have a blast?" asks Mrs. Davis, a majestic, forthright woman with a celebratory approach to life.
People who wear Christmas sweaters are like that. Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright, but "some" is not enough for this breed of reveler. They have to wallow in Christmas, they have to wear Christmas. They have to have Christmas sweaters with their own special effects: flashing lights and micro-chip carols. Once, Perry Como wore a Christmas sweater while crooning on his annual holiday special. Now, the sweaters croon by themselves.
And it's not just the mellow Mr. Como who sports a woolen winter wonderland. People you know wear Christmas sweaters. People you care for. Good people. Your mother-in-law. Your child's teacher. Your colleagues. Your boss. Your boss' boss. They have the best intentions. But some how, some way, they must be stopped.
It's already too late for any sweater interventions this year. There are too many of them. And too few of us. Christmas sweaters are reproducing like the little bunnies who supply the Angora for sweater Santas' wispy white beards.
Look around any Christmas concert or holiday bazaar, and you'll see fashion sense and sensibility have been banished by Scottie dogs on the rampage and gingerbread men run amok. Strutting candy canes. Rabid reindeer. Teddy bears bursting from wreaths and other unnatural acts. Trees and Santas ad nauseam. Blizzards of snowflakes. Poisonous poinsettias. And enough metallic gold thread to tie up Santa and every single one of his fiendish little elves. Ho ho ho.
These sweaters have things sticking out of them. Ribbons, pins, pom poms, bangles, bells, ersatz gems, Christmas tree buttons. They are a dry cleaner's dream. And your worst nightmare.
And they are worn by responsible women. Women of all political persuasions, who dote on their children and volunteer at soup kitchens. Women who bake cookies, for heaven's sake.
Velma Cornick of Baltimore loves her red, button-down, wool and Angora Christmas sweater decorated with snowflakes and penguins.
"It makes me feel good," she says. She rotates this particular Christmas sweater with two others and plans to add to her collection.
Meg Stillman of Ellicott City unpacks her three Christmas sweaters the day after Thanksgiving and puts them away after New Year's. "They're so festive. They're bright," she says.
The one Ms. Stillman is wearing today -- festooned with red ribbons, a rocking horse, and toy soldier -- came from her mother, who also purchased sweaters for two other daughters and two daughters-in-law. When the five sisters tire of their particular Christmas sweater, or when they get pregnant and need a bigger one, they play musical Christmas sweaters.
Mary Ann Hollman, a resonsible Baltimore mother of four, has enough Christmas sweaters to wear a different one from Dec. 1 through Christmas. You see, there are no Christmas sweater control laws. There are no waiting periods or limits. No license is required to purchase or sell them.
This time of year, preppy, conservative retailers like Talbots become a hot zone of Christmas sweater activity. One splendid, handmade Talbots specimen made of cotton and ramie and "two percent other fibers" features a country window through which a snowy tableau can be seen. A scarf and hat hang from the window frame and a doggy with a Santa hat waits on the floor. A wreath bedecks the window and a tiny cardinal pin sits on the window sill. Yours for $130.
There are no limits to bad taste in the Christmas sweater business. At Sassafras in Columbia Mall, a Christmas sweater depicts Santa and proclaims in knitted letters, "I believe."
Christmas sweatshirts, an unfortunate sub-category, also abound, usually featuring a Team Santa motif with oodles of adorable puppies and kittens wearing Kris Kringle hats and bells. These sweatshirts beat you over the head with slogans like "Joy," and other expressions of requisite Christmas spirit.