“Amanda,” an unnamed gentleman at the office of Whoopi Goldberg said, just after calling me on my cell phone. “Are you ready for Whoopi?”
I was ready for Whoopi — and as I would come to find out over the course of our 20 minute phone conversation, Whoopi is ready for Christmas. To say that the actress, comedian, and television personality loves the holidays is a massive understatement: The woman lives for turkey, presents under the tree, and carrying on or creating traditions with her family.
“For me, Christmas and the holidays mean everything," Goldberg tells me over the phone, "Because they keep me close with the people who aren’t with me anymore. I get to relive all of that.”
Goldberg's holiday nostalgia is part of what inspired her to team up with Zappos to create Whoopi's Ugly Holiday Sweaters, a 12-item collection of coziness that celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the holidays in general. The collection is her second, and the sweaters are, unsurprisingly for a collection conceived of by Goldberg, very charming.
To hear Goldberg talk about the holidays is the auditory version of watching your favorite Christmas movie on a pair of flannel pajamas, curled up next to a fire with a massive mug of hot cocoa in your lap. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that as Goldberg recounted her childhood holiday season, nostalgic tears for my own childhood made a brief appearance.
“My mom believed that the holidays were really important, regardless of what you celebrated," Goldberg says. "At the holiday season, every kid should have as much leeway to be a kid as you can possibly grant them.”
Goldberg's mother also extended herself as much as she could for her family of three during the holidays, pulling out all the stops to make sure everyone's Christmas was memorable.
“We lived in the projects, so I don’t know where she put stuff or how she did it, but it was like we were Rockefellers," Goldberg remembers. “I’d watch my mother do the turkey, she’d put the turkey in at 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve. On the television would be A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim. Then, we’d go over to Channel 11, WPIX, and watch the yule log. You’d wake up in the middle of the night, wondering if Claus had been there yet. The smell of turkey cooking slowly over night, meshed with a live Christmas tree, is the thing I remember most. We’d get up in the morning, and the whole house smelled of turkey."
And yet, amidst the crackling, pine-scented landscape of Goldberg's Christmas memories, one thing is missing: Christmas sweaters. Her mother never dressed them in Christmas sweaters growing up — and that's part of the reason why she wanted to create them.
"When I was a kid, my mom didn’t dress us as a family," Goldberg says. "I love the idea of it it. Because it’s kitsch. There was a time when Christmas was kitsch. I think ugly sweaters are a way for people to reconnect to a time when it was better."
Goldberg also has a theory on how holiday sweaters transformed from status quo to ironic and "ugly" (Goldberg prefers to call them "odd," herself): The desire to connect to the way the holidays made you feel as a child.
"They used to just be normal sweaters," Goldberg supposes. "Then, people started posting them — taking pictures of family, or showing pictures of the six kids in the family wearing the strangest sweaters ever. I think people just thought, 'I want to be part of this, because it might not have been part of you growing up' — and it wasn’t for me."
Whoopi Goldberg's Ugly Holiday Sweaters are on sale now at Zappos. All sweaters in the collection retail for $89, and are available in sizes S to 2XL. Talking to her, one gets the impression that the collection is about something more than diversifying her brand: Young Whoopi, the one who watched her mother make turkey and transform their apartment into a Christmas wonderland, wants to play a part in creating holiday wonderment of her own, for everyone.
"You don’t realize how hungry you are for your traditions as kid," she says. "You want those feelings for your kids, you want that magic. You want to have it as long as you can."