I’ve caught myself browsing through department stores a little more often the past few weeks. What I thought was going to be the hardest Christmas shopping season to date has actually turned out to be the easiest one so far.

It reinforces the thought that every Christmas season is ever-changing through our personal growth. There was a time when all you could think about was what you wanted Santa Claus to bring you. Eventually, that changes to searching for the perfect presents to give to everyone on your list.

In some cases after a while, they have everything they could want, so the focus changes to shopping for the less fortunate by adopting families and names through angel tree programs.

This season is about giving instead of receiving, and just to see a happy reaction (or joyfully anticipate it for weeks leading up to Christmas) is enough to make you smile.

Slipping back a little in time on the topic of personal growth, there has been something at the department stores grabbing my eye and taking me back – tacky Christmas sweaters.

They were there when I was younger and more sociable, but they weren’t the spectacle they are now. For laughs, I remember buying a couple of them at thrift stores years ago but never wore either to a party planned specifically around them.

There are plenty of T-shirts I’ve donated or demoted to rags that I wouldn’t dare buy now if they were new at the stores. Moving past some forms of humor captured through T-shirts is another example of personal growth.

Back in the peak times of my social life, way before that personal growth and maturity happened, Christmas gatherings leaned more towards run of the mill parties like college people throw. A few years after that, more mature parties centered on playing Dirty Santa and bringing side dishes to compliment a baked ham.

These days, though, the mystical power of the tacky Christmas sweater is one that screams good tidings and holiday cheer at plenty of holiday gatherings, with all of its bells, tassels and images of elves and reindeer.

I’m not saying I’m too straight-laced and dull to throw on a penguin hat, plaid pants and necklace of Christmas lights to get a few laughs but I am saying the time of that being the norm at parties was probably 11 years ago for me and my friends.

When I see how elaborate not just the tacky Christmas sweaters are but the entire tacky Christmas get-ups places like Kohl’s and J.C. Penny have for sale are, I smile thinking about all the parties about to be thrown in the coming weeks.

We can all look back through high school yearbooks and ask ourselves, ‘Why in the world did we dress like or have that haircut?’ When we look back at pictures from Halloween parties, though, we can smile and think about the reactions we got when our friends first saw us in costume.

It’s all about having fun and being merry.

Years ago, somebody told me about how much fun an older group of ladies, the Red Hatters, has with its regular meetings. She talked about how they wear purple tops and red hats when together and gave commentary about how those colors don’t go together.

There are different ways to be tacky when it comes to a good time. You can be tacky by dressing in the most awful-looking clothes pairings to get some laughs and draw attention to yourself. You can also be tacky by being really straight-laced and making snide comments about the fun-loving people who do.

Even though it’s been a really long time since I rocked a mullet wig or got tatted up by a black Sharpie for a Halloween party, I’m still not too straight-laced to have forgotten about the fun that comes with it.

For the Red Hatters, the ones with tacky sweaters in your closet and anyone else willing to turn heads with the way you dress for a good time, I ain’t mad at cha.

Keep on doing your thing because smiling and laughing helps keep us all feeling youthful in our ever-changing stages in life.

RAY VAN DUSEN is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.

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