Christmas in July is taking on a whole new meaning this year as Wrenshall resident and former mayor Donna Weiderman looks to release her ugly Christmas sweater collection into the world.
What started as an outfit for a work party has become a full-blown tradition for Weiderman, who has been customizing ugly Christmas sweaters for roughly 12 years now. With designs ranging from a light up Christmas tree to a 3D version of her husband as Santa Clause, she believes she has mastered the art of ugly.
“It was just my way of just … bringing a little bit of cheer, a little bit of happiness," Weiderman said. “There is a story behind every one of them.”
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Weiderman has always embraced the sweaters, wearing them in public and to her places of employment during the holiday season. She currently works as a paraprofessional within the Cloquet School District, but even as mayor, the sweaters made it into her wardrobe rotation.
However, Weiderman said she knew she had reached her sweater limit when she could wear a different sweater for every school day from the end of Thanksgiving break until winter break.
“It’s getting out of hand," she said.
This led her to create the Craigslist entry "crazy sweater lady sells her creations," and post every sweater for sale, except the one with her husband as Santa Clause.
Weiderman doesn't view the sale as the end of her sweater days, but rather a clean slate on which to build new designs. She said she has come to consider the sweaters useful tools for engaging with the community and her students.
“It opens up a new doorway for people to approach you," she said. “No one ever is crabby when they’re looking at my Christmas sweaters."
Weiderman currently works as a paraprofessional at the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program and has also spent time at Washington Elementary. At both schools, she said the sweaters have served as positive encouragement and entertainment for the students.
“I was the type of student who didn’t really go to school, but once she did those sweaters, I’d show up everyday for at least an hour to see what her sweater was," Cloquet student Yariah Hall said.
Hall is going to be a senior at the CAAEP next fall and said that commenting on the sweaters would sometimes be her sole purpose for going online for class last winter, calling Weiderman's joy over them "contagious."
"Some had bells and ... she would stand up in the camera and shake her sweater for the bells to ring," Hall said. “She loved making those sweaters, and she loved showing them off.”
Although the sweaters are always a conversation starter, Weiderman said they proved especially valuable when trying to encourage students throughout distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I saw the positivity that it brought this year," she said.
According to Weiderman, a crowd favorite seemed to be the Abominable Snowman sweater, which made its first appearance last winter. It seemed like people were willing to buy it off Weiderman's back, she said. Hall said the sweater was her favorite one of the collection.
The sweaters are currently listed at $25 a piece or two for $40, and while selling the sweaters has been slow going, Weiderman expects the pace to speed up once summer ends. For now, she is just hoping that people will embrace "Christmas in July" and help her empty her wardrobe.
This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. July 13 to correct an acronym for the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program. It was originally posted at 7 a.m. July 13. The Pine Journal regrets the error.