22/12/2016 09:33 GMT | Updated 21/12/2017 05:12 GMT

The Je Ne Sais Quoi Of The Christmas Jumper

What is it about this festive item of knitwear that makes us so willing to embrace it? And why is that when Grandma gives us a 'normal' item of knitwear to unwrap on the big day we just don't feel the same?

A 2009 consumer behaviour study into the shared celebratory occasion of Christmas identified the importance of evaluating festive consumer patters not from the numeric perspective, but from a much more emotive and experiential perspective. We care for the ritual, the hedonism, and the aesthetic experience. We worship the kitsch as if it were truly the idolatry impetus for the festive season, willingly ignoring the religious iconoclasm that consumerism is causing. 


The Christmas jumper is a participatory group activity. An extreme of every-day dressing, the wearer chooses a design that encapsulates some aspect of their personality. However, unlike every-day dress, the Christmas jumper is actively and not subtly acknowledged by those around the wearer. Acknowledging the design of the Christmas jumper creates a shared experience of festive consumerism, allowing the jumper to supersede the material and enter the intangible and quasi-sanctified realm of celebration. This new hyperreality is a joyous state that plain knitwear is simply incapable of rendering. 

The Christmas jumper's hyperreality allows the reality of the tangible object, the festive jumper, to co-exist with the heightened pseudo-state that the jumper's commitment to celebration has created. The tangible and imagined realities have seamlessly co-mingled leaving the wearer and observer in an elevated state of consciousness.

The Christmas jumper's metaphysical powers are not just constrained to rendering new realities through shared experiences of introspection. Some Christmas jumpers actually poses the ability to sensually immerse. These Christmas jumpers use bells, flashing LEDs, and tactile protrusions to provide a stimulus for the majority of the senses: hearing, sight and touch. Sensory stimulation of the Christmas jumper exists not only as a mechanism for greater festive immersion, but also to enhance the yearning for an idealised past: nostalgia.

Nostalgia is a neuropsychiatric phenomenon where one yearns for an optimal and thus sanitised version of the past. One does not desire to relive true experiences, but instead one wishes to return to a false past created out of only happy memories. It was as early as 1908 the Freud noted the connection between sensory stimulation and emotive responses such as nostalgia. The ritualistic festive period is already a nostalgic time of year and the sensually stimulating Christmas jumper knows this, utilising its lights and sounds to submerge us into a sappy state of sublimity.

The sound of bells, the flashing lights, they remind us of the childhood innocence that as adults we only gain a glimpse of once a year. Christmas, still somehow a time of magic to those young and old, is one of the most unchanging experiences throughout life. Even once you stop believing in Santa Claus, the day remains much unchanged: a tree with lights; elaborately wrapped presents; overindulgence of turkey; general gluttony and merriment.

Cultural consumer theory can be used to demonstrate that a socio-cultural justification exists as to why the extreme garishness of the Christmas jumper is in fact paramount to its charm. In many ways, the more hideous the Christmas jumper, the greater its propensity for joy. For the more it is able to thrust Christmassyness on to its wearer and observer, the more it brings about nostalgia and thrusts all aware of it into a state of Christmas bliss.


Wearing a Christmas jumper is a public display of one's personal commitment to partaking in a celebratory form of consumerism: consumerism that allows objects to develop meanings that extends beyond their material functionality. Grandma's knitted goods received on the 25th cannot be expected to bring about the same emotions nor experiences and thus, in comparison, will only serves as a source of yearly disappointment. Fundamentally, the Christmas jumper is the ultimate physical manifestation of festive kitsch and as much as we consciously know it's a tacky gimmick, we would not have it any other way.