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Lynne Champlin's beautiful "ugly" Christmas sweater. 

I found an early Christmas present this past year sitting on our front porch. I first thought it was from Santa, but no, it was from a longtime friend, Carol Berg. As soon as I opened it up, I started laughing and could not believe what I found inside the bag.

Carol had been shopping. She found a gift for me that she could not resist. What added to her fun, was that she knew this gift was not really me. However, it was so darn cute, she bought it anyway and dropped it off at our home.

So if you saw a woman walking around downtown Napa in December wearing a red Christmas sweater with two long-haired dachshunds “dashing through the snow” on the front, it was me. Carol has known our dogs since they were puppies. She recognized the fact that the dogs on the sweater look exactly like our dogs. I wondered if the company who make the sweater had their picture. Wagner has long hair with streaks of black in it, a black nose and black eye liner. Gunther has shorter red hair and a brown nose.

That evening, we were volunteering for the successful annual Napa Landmark’s Holiday Candlelight Tour expertly run by Ernie Schlobohm with his wife Carol Lane’s support. I tried on my new sweater and Philip encouraged me to wear it for the evening. My only problem was that I needed to wear a hat that evening.

A few days earlier, one of Dr. Robert Davis’ colleagues had performed a little “slice and dice” on a spot above my eye. Dr. Lauren Gebauer was kind and painless but I had to wear a large Band-Aid on the side of my head. My dear husband came through again. He suggested that a Santa hat, the perfect solution as it matched my red “ugly” Christmas sweater. And that evening at the house party we were hosting, I didn’t have many comments on my sweater. Only three young fun women who owned dachshunds loved it.

The next morning, I had a brainstorm. I would go underground and become a real Napa Valley Register reporter. I would wear my beautiful “ugly” sweater and Santa hat every time I left home. I wanted to hear and see how people responded to those who wear those Christmas sweaters. Was it really true that people didn’t like them? And why were they called ugly? And who was the Scrooge that started this ugly name business?

I wore my Christmas sweater and Santa hat every time I left home. I have been secretly interviewing my fellow Napans and keeping notes. Many names have been kept secret for their own protection but I will tell you the locations where I interviewed them.

The first comment I heard was from my own doctor in the Pink Palace on Trancas Street, I’ll call him Dr. Michael. I was walking in front of the Queen and he came out of a door. I said hello and he laughingly said, “Wow. Now that is an outfit.” I told him that I was doing a column and promised I would quote him. It was great fun sharing that moment.

I met Mr. W, coming out of Dr. G’s office one day. He noticed my sweater but liked my gold foil hat better. It was raining so the Santa hat had stayed home. Mr. W has volunteered at the Information Desk at Queen of the Valley Hospital for 18 years. His family was originally from American Canyon. He had lived in Napa most of his life and giggled when he told me that he had dated Lorraine Streblow Kongsgaard at Napa High School when they were students. He knew our husbands had sat together on the Napa courts. He was very charming and an interesting person.

As I wandered the aisles in Target, a young lady came up to me. With a friendly smile, she told me that I looked so festive. She confessed that she usually wore her Christmas tights and thought it was fun to wear them during the holidays. She was with her husband, and both had attended local schools. They were very friendly and supportive of my outfit.

One evening, we attended a party and I wore my Christmas outfit. Another female guest admitted that she was sorry she hadn’t worn hers, too. She had it on and then changed her mind. She and her sister were going to go the movies and thought it was a perfect chance to wear their Christmas sweaters. But then, again, at the last minute they didn’t wear them. I understood her feelings about appearing in public wearing her sweater but I was on a mission.

As I was coming out of Raley’s, I met a woman walking in with her husband. She was wearing a blue Christmas sweater. I walked up to her and whispered in her ear. “I am so glad to see a lady who dresses like me.”

We started laughing and she told me that she had hesitated wearing it but finally thought, why not? I think we were proud of ourselves. Wearing these sweaters in today’s modern world takes nerve but why be boring?

When I stopped at the Wine Valley Post Office for the mail, I saw a woman, about my age, wearing her Christmas tights, a black top and her Christmas necklace. We smiled and complimented each other on our Christmas splendor. It was fun and we brightened up each other’s day. Those few words encouraged me.

On a sunny Saturday morning, I decided to walk downtown to visit the new outdoor market at the First Street Napa Mall. It has been organized by , Makers Market. I strolled through the booths and spoke to the dealers. Many of them liked my sweater and made nice comments. They were artists and I think we were on the same wave length. I enjoyed this new addition to downtown and hope it succeeds.

As I was walking back to Old Town, I stopped at the Napa Tourist Information Center on the corner. I loved all their merchandise as they offer so many cute little things. The lady working there noticed my dachshund Christmas sweater and thought it was fun to wear. I confided my mission to her.

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My most memorable moment took place at the Vallejo Costco. I was walking the aisles when a man approached me. He was making strange sounds. At first, I thought he was gagging or had a cold. I tried not to pay attention. As he got closer, finally our eyes met. He told me that he had seen my sweater and he was singing his version of “Dachshunds (dash-hunds) slushing through the snow.” We both starting laughing. I then told him the names of our German dogs; Gunther (Gunny) and Wagner (Wags). To my surprise and total delight, he started to speak a few sentences in German. He apparently had served in the military and had been stationed in Germany.

We took Ed Barwick to dinner at Black Bear Diner and a woman with her mother were seated in a booth next to us. I was in luck; mom was also wearing a Santa sweater. As we left, I just had to stop and compare our sweaters. We shared a few giggles but Mom certainly had me beat. She was wearing her Santa earrings to complete her outfit. I felt rather plain.

I saved my best “Ugly Christmas Sweater” conversation for the end. I was walking our two dachshunds at Fuller Park when I met two friendly retired Napa teachers. They loved my sweater. It reminded them of their Christmas sweaters days. During school and right after Thanksgiving, they would take out their collection of Christmas sweaters and wear them every day for the entire month of December. The children loved them. They were colorful and cheerful and brightened everyone’s day. The teachers called them “Happy Sweaters.” It was delightful meeting them.

I always remember the advice Frank Dunlap gave my husband when Philip joined the Coombs & Dunlap law firm in 1965. He said, “Be careful when you talk about people because everyone is related in the Napa Valley and don’t judge people by how they dress. The old man in the Big Ben overalls, who drives the beat up old truck, probably is one of the richest men in town.” There have been lots of changes to the Napa Valley since 1965, but I think that is still good advice.

I don’t know why these are called ugly sweaters. I think mine is beautiful and brought good cheer and happiness wherever I wore it. So be nice to people wearing Christmas sweaters and say nice things about them. They may not be rich but they are probably related to a friend of yours and you never know who they really are. It may be an unknown woman in the red dachshund Christmas sweater who could be writing about you in her Napa Valley Register column, Coffee, Tea, and Me.

Thank you, Carol Berg, for my beautiful sweater. You gave me an idea for my column this month and encouraged my mind to flow. And I thank all of you who contributed to this column. I enjoyed meeting you and having a chance to share the holiday spirit.

Happy New Year, everyone !

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