krampusLast Saturday, I stood in the aisles of the Goodwill store frantically searching for a skirt that would complete my attire for the ugly Christmas sweater party we had been invited to that night. I had been looking for this outfit for the past week, contacting anyone who I thought might be in possession of a Christmas-themed sweater. I’d asked my mother-in-law if her bowling buddies might have any. I’d asked my husband’s aunt if she knew anyone. I’d asked my friend if she could delicately ask her mother-in-law if I could borrow one of hers (she still wears them). I’d finally gotten good luck with the sweater part (thank you, Aunt Carrie), but the outfit still didn’t pack the punch I was hoping it would.

So I stood flicking through the racks, bemused to discover that some teenagers behind me were likewise looking for sweaters.

“Is this ugly?” one asked her friend.

“Not really,” she answered.

“This one? It’s got gingerbread men.”

“OK yes, now that’s ugly.”

At the moment I realized ugly Christmas sweater parties had firmly hit the mainstream, I suddenly came upon a powder blue skirt, knitted, fiercely pleated, extending to my ankles. This, I realized instantly, was it.

I walked over to the shoe department and, low and behold, found a pair of white Keds, nearly new, exactly my size that would be perfect to accentuate the candy cane knee-highs I would wear.

Feeling deep relief, I paid my $9.65 (I love Goodwill) and felt like the holidays had really started.

So, at 7 p.m. that night, I dressed in my outfit, while my husband William pulled on his sweater — a revamped Eddie Bauer number that featured yellow pompom epaulets, blinking lights and a picture of Krampus, who is a demon that, according to Alpine lore, eats naughty children at Christmas time. Thus we set off ready to party.

The USCP of 2012 was expected to be the party of the year and, once we arrived, I realized it really was. More than 100 people were crammed into the Coal Reserve, a party facility that is as pretty as it is functional. The music of Faubush Hill was radiating from the dance floor, champagne with Chambord was being generously poured and last year’s winners — Candice and Jesse Pace — were the perfect hosts.

Jesse had clinched the prize last year for his Christmas-themed cardigan vest, which he had paired with a nude, sleeveless, ribbed turtleneck that showed off his bare arms in just the perfect, hilarious way.

The goal of the party, of course, is to wear the most hideous festive attire you can get your hands on. Then the hosts of the party hold a contest to see who is, in fact, the ugliest. The winners of the contest are then charged with hosting the party the following year.

As I looked around the room, I saw that the competition was pretty steep this year. Snowmen danced on oversized cardigans. Pudgy candy cane swung on ears. Someone wore a hat depicting a red-bricked chimney with Santa’s boots hanging from the top. And grown men wore pink concoctions that dazzled as much with sparkly ornaments as exposed chest hair.

However, based on people’s chuckling reactions, William’s Merry Krampus sweater and my blue-knit skirt, which offset my red snowman zip-up sweater, seemed to be a good combination.

Around 11 p.m. Jesse and Candice rounded everyone up to announce the winners. Standing in his resurrected outfit from last year, along with a ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots, Jesse looked every bit a winner. People whooped and shouted in anticipation and before Jesse even announced who would follow in his footsteps, I heard unmistakable chanting.

“Ba-ker. Ba-ker. Ba-ker,” they shouted, referring to my husband William Baker and I.

Now, I haven’t won a lot of contests in my life. Never threw the winning basket. Never smashed a perfect spike. Never won the Spelling Bee. But when it comes to ugly, it turns out, I had found my niche and hearing my name (kind of) being shouted in unison caused a pretty amazing rush.

“The winners of this year’s ugliest sweater contest year are, as a duo, William and Tara Baker,” Jesse announced to wild applause.

It was one sweet moment. So. The planning for next year’s party begins.

Merry Krampus, everyone.

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