The Scene: Hey, that’s a great ugly sweater!

With pride, Berkshire Young Professionals welcome the holidays in style


PITTSFIELD — A kaleidoscope of color combined with creativity, individuality, whimsicality and purposeful gaudiness — all executed with panache — described the atmosphere at the Berkshire Young Professionals Ugly Sweater Party.

The event Thursday evening drew close to 100 BYP members, friends and people of all ages of the community. Tickets were free for members and $5 for non-members. 

The organization focuses on connecting individuals ages 21 to 40; however, there’s no age limit and they do “encourage locals over 40 to participate, mentor and help connect the next generation with different opportunities.”

BYP is an organization that focuses on building resources that foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and small business expansion in the economic sectors of a creative economy, tourism industry, agricultural and food production, advanced manufacturing, plastics, health and wellness, and nonprofits. 

But after speaking with many of the BYP members it appears they share camaraderie and have lots of fun networking and brainstorming different ideas to help the community and promote each other. One idea being “An Ugly Sweater Party.”

When asked, “Why bring back the ugly sweaters?” BYP Chairman Jonah Sykes answered. “We wanted to cut off any obligation to come to a party dressed up, but instead it’s nice to feel comfortable, let loose and and have fun wearing something totally atrocious.”

And totally atrocious was certainly the theme of the evening. 

Hotel on North’s subtle lighting in the Ballroom seemed a bit more brilliant due to the numerous sweaters equipt with christmas lights of all shapes and sizes, and some guests actually carried remote controls to flash on and off at a mere request or when displaying their unique creations. 

With the quick press of her switch, Kate Sullivan of Kallitechnis Creative from Bennington, Vt., lit up like a Christmas tree.

“I attended the BYP November meeting and really enjoyed it, especially the pop-up art and the networking to cross link with other professionals in and around my community,” she said.

Taking tickets at the door were Sykes and spouse Colin Sykes, Danielle Thomas of 1Berkshire and coordinator of the program, and Joe Girard of Liberty Mutual Insurance.

Garbed in evergreen garland and a rainbow of bulbous lights, Girard said, “I’m pretty excited about tonight to see what everyone’s got!”

As clusters of tacky tops entered, the energy of the space grew bigger and bigger, filling the ballroom with lots of laughter and smiles, not to mention some great photo opportunities.

Standing by to capture the moments was BYP’s own photographer and vice chairman Devin Shea sporting the classic Kelly green reindeer Christmas sweater with hat. 

Everyone mingled, sipping wine and other concoctions of cocktails served at the liquor table by event coordinator Kerri McNamara of Hotel on North, along with Brayton Whitney of Hotel on North. An array of imported cheeses and spreads, breads, sliced vegetables and kalamata olives were arranged at a nearby table for the guests. Brie with honey was popular with those who meandered by to sample the many flavors.

City Councilor Pete White joined in with his beaming snowman sweater, complete with twinkling green lights.

“I love to network with other like-minded people in the community,” White said. “You feel a lot of life at these events.” 

Ian Valiton of North Adams said, “I’ve been a member of of BYP for a year and a half. I like to network and find out what other people my age are up to.”

Standing at a table in the back were, as they stated, the “oldest professionals” and dynamic duo Paul Gniadek of San Diego, Calif., and Suzanne Hudson of Pittsfield who lit up with jokes and contagious laughter.

“This is an original ugly sweater from 1984 complete with shoulder pads. I think I got it at TJ Maxx,” said Hudson. Every year, she adds a different Christmas pin to honor her own “ugly sweater” tradition. 

Julie Zhu, an accountant with Berkshire Bank, came to the states from Guang Zhou, China, 12 years ago.

“It’s fun to hang out and exchange information at these events,” she said. “I get to meet a lot of different professionals from many diverse backgrounds.” 

With the ringing of bells, it was time for the judging of the sweaters and the ones chosen to pick the winner were the Rev. Joseph Farnes, assistant rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and Matt Painter of Berkshire Health Systems.

The contenders lined up against the wall as the judges carefully surveyed the materials and made their final decision.

Linnea Morrison from Boyde Technologies in Lee won the Ugly Sweater Contest and received the prize of four tickets to The February 24th Party at The Berkshire Museums.

Morrison said much of the credit goes to her neighbor Emily Weiland of Austerlitz, N.Y., who assisted her in the original design.

“Every year she works on Christmas sweaters that are original and fun,” said Morrison. “She’s such a great neighbor. We bike together and are really good friends.”

Linnea’s sweater was Christmas red and displayed Santa Claus frolicking on the rear wheel of a bicycle. She was proud to model it in front of the tree where everyone was happy to congratulate her.

Berkshire Young Professional’s Ugly Sweater Party made wearing the funky geometric and decorative Christmas sweaters loads of fun and pretty hip too.

The original plan was to never wear mine again, but after feeling the festive holiday spirit donning my tassel nosed polar bear, not to mention receiving more compliments at a venue after the party, I’m apt to do it again and again. And I think this quirky trend just might grow. What better way to usher in the holidays?

Janel Harrison covers the Berkshires social scene for The Eagle.


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