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The Rise of the Hanukkah Sweater

For many years, while Christmas celebrators were dressing in their finest ugly holiday apparel, those of us who wanted to celebrate Hanukkah were left out in the cold, sans kitschy knitwear. What was a festive Jew to do while the Christians flaunted their light-up Rudolf sweatshirts and tinsel appliques? How could she attend a party without a dancing rabbi knit into her shirt? Could she light the menorah with no dreidels emblazoned on her sleeves?

Luckily, those days are behind us.

In the past five years, ugly Hanukkah sweaters have gained prominence, both in physical stores and on the Internet. One of the first companies to manufacture this sartorially innovative garb was Tipsy Elves, a company founded in 2011. Tipsy Elves mostly makes ugly Christmas sweaters, but one of their founders is half-Catholic and half-Jewish.  As a result, you’ll find a few dancing dreidels and joyful rabbis on their site as well.

The first company exclusively dedicated to the ugly Hanukkah sweater was Geltfiend, founded in 2012 by Carin Agiman, a Jewish girl who loved ugly sweater parties and just wanted some kitschy knitwear to represent her own culture. Agiman ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and kept her company going for four Hanukkah seasons, selling surprisingly tasteful dreidel cardigans and pullovers that brilliantly combined Fair Isle patterns with menorahs.

Sadly, Agiman decided to close up shop last Hanukkah. But Hanukkah sweaters are now a thing, and while we can’t quite say that they’re everywhere, they’re certainly in a lot of places: Target, Walmart, and Nordstrom, to name a few.

Gelt Digger Hanukkah Sweater
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From TipsyElves, the blurb about this sweater reads: "The only person you let near your Hanukkah bush are doctors and lawyers. But hey, no one said it was easy being chosen."

Of course, these sweaters are not without controversy: some commentators are bemoaning Agiman’s failure as a sign that fast fashion and culturally insensitive companies are taking over Hanukkah the way they’ve taken over, well, everything else. And, sadly unsurprisingly, every year seems to bring at least one new sweater design that’s horribly offensive to women, Judaism, or just all humans.

There’s a lot to love; there’s some to hate. But for those of us who’ve always dreamed of bringing that special sartorial edge to holiday parties, Hanukkah sweaters are a boon and a delight. So, if that’s your style, wear those dancing dreidels and garish menorahs with pride, my friends, and enjoy the season. 

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GeltFiend's Hanukkah Sweater
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GeltFiend's Hanukkah Sweater, available for order on Amazon

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How to cite this page

Cataneo, Emily. "The Rise of the Hanukkah Sweater." 23 December 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 26, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/rise-of-hanukkah-sweater>.

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