The austere trappings of Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple magazine have no influence upon the woman who owns and wears at least one big, 45-percent-cotton/55 percent-ramie Made-in-China Christmas sweater covered with candy canes and holly and ice skaters and Santas and teddy bears. For her, less is not more. (Meryl Streep's cancer-stricken character in the movie "One True Thing" protests when her emotionally distant, academic husband feels she's overdoing the holidays: "Less is not more," she says. "More is more." It is clear that this is a Christmas sweater woman. She dies.)
Does the sweater have a Rudolph reindeer knitted across it, with a nose that actually lights up? You bet. It will no doubt be worn by the woman who will drag you kicking and screaming into the joyeux realm, and maybe you'd be better off if you just shut up and go along. Her sweater commands it.
The world needs, in a strange way, women in garish Christmas sweaters. It is the final touch of enforced happiness that the season brings. When you see women wearing them, it's like seeing the actual angels who are in charge of graciousness.
These are the women who make the whole office participate in Secret Santa, or leave a tray of divinity by the fax machine. This is the woman who is shoving her sophomores through "Beowulf" and has decided to bring red and green popcorn balls to class today, and skip the vocabulary quiz.
Christmas sweaters are a little fix in the addiction to decorating. The house is done inside and out, the annual family newsletter is bubble-jet laser-printed and inserted into all the cards, which are addressed and stamped, and there's even a wreath on the grille of the Ford Expedition. Now, says the Christmas sweater woman to herself, it's time to decorate me. (Because the dog is hiding.)
The woman in the Christmas sweater has carried holiday spirit farther than it should go, but luckily she lives in the Free World, where there is no such thing as too much Christmas. What we think about other people's Christmas sweaters goes politely unexpressed. Maybe all of December is a huge fashion mistake, an exercise in extreme bad taste, a common horror. With no room for critics, it triumphs over all darkness: I like your sweater.