Season's traditions included ugly Christmas sweaters



“Quirky, like a Christmas sweater.”

That's how John Kraps, youth director at St. James United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, describes the shepherds and other outcasts who went to the manger in Bethlehem when Baby Jesus was born.

“The first Christmas, it wasn't the cool thing,” Kraps said. “Jesus wasn't born in the hot hotel. He was born in a manger. He wasn't the thing to be (around). But even though He came with humble beginnings, He transformed the world.”

Collective Church in DeLand held a party Dec. 11 that included ugly sweaters as a craft project. One of the more popular ideas included sweaters with 9-volt battery packs.

According to the Time magazine website, tacky Christmas sweaters are being re-appropriated from their perpetual spot in the back of the wardrobe. They are now big hits at church Christmas parties, especially when they carry a Gospel message.

Kraps made his point with the St. James UMC youth group during an ugly sweater Christmas party held Dec. 7 at the church. Adult volunteers and youth were urged to wear their most atrocious-looking Christmas sweaters to compete for a slate of prizes. Some of the participants used ideas from Pinterest to make their own.

The boy winner's hideous sweater was red with gift bows and tree ornaments attached. It also was adorned with candy canes and snowmen. Hanging in front was a small picture frame featuring Santa Claus's bearded face. But between Santa's white curly locks was not a picture of the sweater wearer or a family member, but rather the stock image of a young model that came with the frame off the store shelf. Another red sweater had a picture of Donald Trump and the thought bubble “Make Christmas Great Again.” Yet another showed Rudolph worn-out after too much Christmas.

“With the ugly sweaters we had a lot of fun; there was a lot of joy from it. But when you get an ugly sweater for Christmas it's not the cool thing on your list,” said Kraps, who emphasized that “over the years that sweater can have a lot of meaning, especially if it came from somebody important."

Kraps drove his point home by telling the youth that some people may be quirky like a Christmas sweater, “but they can be very important to the ministry of God and the world.”

Next year, the youth director says, they plan to have families make ugly sweaters at church and do photo shoots as part of a Christmas card craft project.

At St. Paul's UMC in Tallahassee, an ugly Christmas sweater party drew a crowd to help build luminaries. Along with prizes for the best, or worst, sweater, those attending enjoyed the movie "Elf."

Christmas at Collective

St. James will have an example to follow. Collective Church in DeLand's annual Christmas party Dec. 11 included ugly sweaters as a craft project. Participants enjoyed live music, a potluck supper, a cookie-decorating contest and an ugly sweater contest. This year, they incorporated ugly sweater crafting. The church pitched in decorating supplies including hot glue guns, yarn and other materials, so contestants could make their ugly sweaters even uglier for the age-group competition.

Contestants were told to go to used clothing stores and purchase sweaters ugly enough to decorate and enter into the contest.

“It was a blast,” said Rev. Ben Collins, lead pastor at Collective Church. “It was a couple of hours of fun being together” for folks ranging from age 2 to those in their late 70s. “We had people's interpretations of the classics, (like) reindeer. The more they tried to make it look like something, the funnier it was because it didn't really look like it.” One popular idea was to use a 9-volt battery pack to light up a sweater.

Illuminating sweaters

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee had a different method for illuminating sweaters. The church stepped outside and tried something a little different for Christmas Eve 2016, the Rev. Pam McMillan, associate pastor, said. They held an 11 p.m. worship service on Lake Ella, which is on public property near the church. The festivities included luminaries, lighted candles standing inside white paper bags filled with sand.

Needing lots of people to bring luminary supplies, church staff incentivized the outing by including movie night featuring the seasonal flick “Elf.” They also encouraged people to wear their ugly Christmas sweaters. At the end of the night, prizes were awarded. More than 100 people participated.

“It was pretty simple,” McMillan said. “It was a festive night to help people prepare luminaries for the Christmas Eve service. I think the draw of the ugly Christmas sweater party and showing a movie really encouraged people to come out to help.”

Sweater entries were creative. The church's youth director wore one that simultaneously celebrated Florida State University, Star Wars and Christmas.

The luminaries lighted up a walkway down to the Lake Ella Gazebo. It's not known whether the ugly sweaters provided some glare as well.

'A wooly pully'

The silliness of wearing ugly sweaters during the holidays swept across not just Lake Ella but also "The Pond,” also known as the Atlantic Ocean. Madame Tussauds, of Save the Children in London, kicked off the charity’s annual Christmas Jumper Day campaign Dec. 16 by dressing the Queen’s wax figure in a "festive wooly pully."

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.


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