Whilst it can often feel like the Christmas jumper, the most infamously kitsch piece of luxury children’s clothing many little ones will wear over the festive season, comes from a tradition that has seemingly always existed.
This is not necessarily the case; whilst the first use of the term “sweater” in English was in 1882 with largely the same meaning it has today, it would take nearly a century for the jumpers and their particularly striking designs to become more widespread and associated with Christmas.
It started in the 1960s, as advances in technology made knitwear more accessible and cheaper, meaning that more people were likely to wear jumpers in the first place. As it is a warming, winter garment, the connection to Christmas naturally progressed from there.
The Christmas specials of musicians such as Andy Williams and Val Doonican helped solidify this connection and gave Christmas specials a cosy costume that Bing Crosby and Sonny & Cher did not have.
In Ireland, the start of this tradition began with The Late Late Toy Show, a spin-off of the Irish institution The Late Late Show hosted by Gabriel “Gay” Byrne. Every year he would wear a jumper, often knitted by a member of the audience that would receive national attention, sometimes not necessarily for good reasons.
Whether intentionally or otherwise, this would spread across the British Isles, with the likes of Timmy Mallett and Gyles Brandreth both wearing somewhat gaudy Christmas-themed jumpers during Christmas editions of the TV-AM show Good Morning Britain.
This spread throughout other children’s television in the UK and was meant to represent (and occasionally were) the kind of jumper knitted by a grandparent and given as a present.
They became increasingly unpopular in the 1990s, with their nadir being the Rudolph sweater worn by Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy, the jumper meant to be seen as an immediate point against him.
This would turn around, largely due to the ironic and nostalgic appeal of a comforting jumper, and now the humble “ugly” Christmas jumper is more popular than ever before.