Where did the Christmas jumper tradition originate from?

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  • For many of us, a big part of winter is about cosying up in Christmas jumpers to welcome in the festive period. But you may be wondering where the tradition came from, and why it's so common for us to wear them even to this day.

    Christmas jumpers are everywhere during winter, but where did the Christmas jumper tradition originate from?

    There’s all sorts of novelty festive jumpers out there these days and there’s a knit for everyone from Christmas jumpers for kids to dogs and cats! In fact, we love them so much, we even have a dedicated Christmas Jumper Day each year.

    You might not be familiar with the Christmas tradition of wearing jumpers, so scroll down and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how it all started…

    Where did the Christmas jumper tradition originate from?

    It’s believed that our beloved Christmas jumpers can be traced back to Scandinavia and Iceland, where they were knitted by hand and designed to keep people warm and cosy during the cold winters.

    Cultural historian Benjamin Wild says onhis blog: “The Christmas jumper can be traced to the heavy, warm sweaters that were hand-knitted in Scandinavia and Iceland before the twentieth century.”

    These jumpers featured patterns that distinguished fishermen from different communities. This is partially why we associate Christmas jumpers with vibrant, geometric designs.

    Woman wearing traditional Christmas jumper

    Credit: Getty Images

    The first Christmas jumpers

    Although Scandinavian fishermen did wear these jumpers, Dr. Wild says they didn’t popularise them. Instead, we’ve got skiing to thank for that.

    Skiing and its style became popular after the 1918 influenza pandemic encouraged people to focus on their health and wellbeing. Dr. Wild explains, “As affluent travellers returned from the ski slopes of Europe with their colourful knits, the humble jumper was elevated to a symbol of luxury and glamour.”

    Not only were they warm and stylish, these bright jumpers also had an array of other benefits. Dr. Wild adds, “Cheap, colourful and customisable, knitted jumpers were an attractive and commonplace wardrobe staple in the lean post-war years.”

    Christmas jumpers

    Credit: Getty Images

    By the ’60s, knitwear was very popular and was worn on screen in popular films from that decade. The likes of Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964), Robert Vaughn in The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1965) and Alain Delon in Les Aventuriers (1967) all wore the shawl collar cardigan, which helped to popularise knitwear in general.

    Christmas jumpers in fashion

    The popularity of ’60s knitwear saw cardigans replace dresses and suits in Christmas advertising campaigns, and the trend kept going from there. Both advertisers and Hollywood legends had a huge part in popularising the Christmas jumper.

    Hollywood stars helped to popularise Christmas jumpers in the 60s and 70s. This meant more and more people got involved with the trend of wearing them each year. People such as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman made the skiing lifestyle popular, and quickly took the jumpers into the world of fashion.

    Ingrid Bergman in a Christmas jumper

    Actress Ingrid Bergman sporting a very festive looking knit. (Credit: Getty Images)

    With celebrities wearing these bright, bold designs, it wasn’t long before many people followed suit and started choosing Christmas jumper designs for themselves.

    Christmas jumpers soon found themselves on the catwalk, and by the 1970s the jumper was officially seen a symbol of the festive season. It doesn’t look like we’re stopping any time soon either!

    Christmas jumpers from 1970s onwards

    Following the Christmas jumpers debut on catwalks in the 80s and 90s, the trend kept growing. Each year, shops around the world would start offering them and the jumpers became the top accessory to have in December.

    Festive knits continue to hold their place in the world of fashion today, with designers like Dries Van Noten debuting  designs in their collections.

    Christmas jumper catwalk

    Dries Van Noten show during Paris Fashion Week. Credit: Getty Images

    Celebrities continued to popularise the jumper, and following the release of Bridget Jones’ Diary in 2001, many people were choosing to find the ‘ugliest’ possible jumper in the name of the Christmas spirit. We’ve got Colin Firth’s ugly reindeer jumper to thank for that!

    Where did the tradition of wearing Christmas jumpers for charity originate from?

    Beyond simply wearing jumpers for fun, we’ve also seen a rise in donning Christmas jumpers for charity. Save the Children started the tradition of wearing Christmas jumpers for a good cause. This annual event was launched by the charity on 14th December 2012, and has been observed every year since.

    Christmas jumper day

    Credit: Getty Images

    To take part, people are encouraged to wear their favourite Christmas jumper and donate £2 to Save the Children. This is often done in teams like workplaces and schools. This way, lots of people can get together and make a donation. These days Christmas Jumper Day sees many celebrities teaming up to raise awareness and support the charity.