Once upon a time, decorated Christmas sweaters were attractive holiday apparel.
But just after the turn of the century, people starting making fun of knitted cardigans and pullovers bearing colorful trees, Santas and other yule symbols.
“Ugly Christmas Sweater” parties and pub crawls spread across the land, and like holiday fruitcake, the tacky trend has stuck around.
In Saratoga Springs, an Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl has become a tradition at The Saratoga City Tavern.
On Monday, Dec. 23, for the fifth year in a row, Jason, Patrick and Adam Fitch, the bearded brothers who own the tavern, will lead a merry crowd of men and women from their bar to five others in the neighborhood. Instead of wearing “ugly sweaters,” as they did in the first few years, the Fitch brothers will be costumed as Santa, an elf and a reindeer.
Proceeds from the event will go to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds research on childhood cancer. Because kids fighting cancer often undergo chemotherapy and lose their hair, the foundation’s best-known money-raising event is a “shaving,” where men, women and children have their hair or beards shaved off while an audience cheers them on.
The Fitch brothers, who took over The Saratoga City Tavern in 2006, all graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School: Patrick in 1998, Jason in 2000 and Adam in 2002.
For months, they’ve all been growing their beards to prepare for the tavern’s next St. Baldrick’s event in March.
The Saratoga City Tavern's fifth annual Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl
WHEN: Monday, Dec. 23. Pub crawl and registration begins at The Saratoga City Tavern, 4:30 to 6 p.m.; and then goes to The Ice House Bar and Grill, 6:15 to 7 p.m.; Caroline Street Pub, 7:15 to 8 p.m.; Druthers Brewing Company, 8:15 to 9 p.m., The Alley Bar, 9:15 to 10 p.m. and Thirteen, 10:15 to 11 p.m.
WHERE: The Saratoga City Tavern, 19-21 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: www.saratogacitytavern.com, 581-3230
On a recent weekday afternoon, before the bar started getting busy, the brothers took turns talking to The Gazette:
Q: Why an Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl?
A: It's a reason for people to get together and have a good time right before Christmas. It’s a release of the stress of shopping and getting ready for the holiday.
Q: Why St. Baldrick's in December?
A: Last year we decided to do St. Baldrick’s as our house charity. Every year we do an event in March for St. Baldrick’s. We do the shavings to raise money. We try to do an event every two or three months. Early summertime, we had a food-eating contest. We had our golf tournament in early fall. And this is our winter event, the pub crawl. Everything we do to raise money is for St. Baldrick’s.
Q: Where do people get their sweaters?
A: Lots of people just go out and buy sweaters. Some people take the time to make the sweaters. We’ve had some pretty creative and crazy sweaters made.
Q: How many people come to the event?
A: The first year we had about 50 people. Last year, we had 100. This year we expect 100 or 125.
Q: Do you have an ugly sweater?
A: Yeah, I made one the first few years. The last one I made it had a big wreath around the front that I sewed on to it. And I had Christmas balls all over it. I had doves on the shoulders. I had lights all over it, too.
Q: How did you make it?
A: I bought a sweater as a base. And then I just went to A.C. Moore and found a bunch of stuff that I hot-glued on there.
Q: What’s your outfit this year?
A: The last three years I’ve been Santa Claus.
Q: Why do you get to be Santa Claus?
A: I got 120 pounds on these guys. My belly is a little bigger. (They all laugh)
Q: How do you sign up?
A: When you show up here on the 23rd, from 4:30 to 6 there’s registration here.
Q: Do people wear the same sweaters every year?
A: We actually have one guy, he wears his mother’s zip-up, sequined coat. It’s all just different colors, and it’s sparkly. It looks like a disco ball. He wears it every single year.
Q: How much money does the pub crawl raise?
A: We raised between $2,500 to $3,000. Last year, at one of the stops, we had some random guy walk up. He gave us a hundred bucks. People at the bars will join the pub crawl.
Q: And you are the elf?
A: I’ve got the best job. I get to make all the presents for Santa Claus. I’ve got a sweet tooth and I get to give candy to everybody, which is pretty cool. I wear a skirt and tights. I have elf shoes, an elf hat. The whole nine yards.
Q: Tell me about your ugly sweater. What’s it look like?
A: Mine is more like an ugly vest. It’s red and it has some snowmen on the side of it. I think I got it at Bon-Ton. Kohl’s has some good selections. And Macy’s actually has some good stuff, down in Colonie Center.
Q: Do people have to drink alcohol?
A: You can drink whatever you want. If you don’t want to drink, you don’t drink. It’s like a holiday party. Every bar is different. You go one place and it’s dancing, you go to another place and it’s pool tables and dart boards. We do 45 minutes at every establishment. It gives people time. We like to promote drinking responsibly. It’s more about the atmosphere of hanging out, enjoying the holidays and supporting the cause.
Q: What does a reindeer do during a pub crawl?
A: No one can really see my face. People don’t know who I am. Last year, I stopped traffic on Broadway when I ran out as a deer and waved everybody by. Once they got by, I ran across the street.
Q: Do you have an ugly sweater?
A: I’ve had some good ones. I gravitate toward the women’s section at Bon-Ton. Or the nightgown section of Wal-Mart.
Q: What do you like about the pub crawl?
A: It’s just a fun time. People are in high spirits and they are just relaxing before the hustle and bustle of the last two days before Christmas. We also give support to the community. On a Monday in December, it’s a little slow in town, so we take a hundred people and we go visit people that are in the same business that we are. It’s good for everybody. It’s boosting local business, it’s great for local charity.