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Commentary: The Christmas Vest- a Jones family tradition

The Jones Boys, Uncle Johnny, me and my father Tim, sing “We Three Kings” while sporting our Christmas vests, circa 1995.
The amount of tacky Christmas sweaters showing up on Facebook, the internet, and even the newspaper has been overwhelming this year. I don’t know if it’s because of the web and Facebook that so many photos are out there or if wearing an ugly Christmas sweater suddenly became cool. Regardless, I have really enjoyed laughing at some of the designs. 
However, I have not seen many Christmas vests in person or out in cyberspace. So, in honor of the Jones family tradition I would like to use this space to brag about my “Jones family Christmas Vest” a tradition that my Granna started many years ago when she made the first one for my grandfather.
Growing up in Johnson City, the Jones family was big on tradition as many families are. My grandfather was the first to sport the red vest with holiday sequins sewn on it. His brother Buddy had one, too. I remember my grandfather would wear the vest with green pants that had holly sewn on them, a red blazer and a green bow-tie. He would walk around town with an invisible dog, using a collar that was molded around a shape of a dog. He would get a lot of weird looks back in those days but usually this brought smiles, laughs, and questions from children. My grandfather could convince anyone that a dog was there, and looking back on it, I think it was his way of saying you believe what is in your heart.
My Dad and uncles all had the red Christmas vests as required by the Jones code. We would gather at my grandparents on Christmas Eve and my dad, Uncle Johnny and Uncle Cotty would perform “We Three Kings, tried to smoke a rubber cigar.” The grandkids all laughed just as much as the first time they saw this skit, even though we knew what was coming.

After that my dad would set up the old 8mm projector and we would watch old movies, real old. First, we would start out with Mickey’s Wild Party, which I have found is correctly titled “The Whoopee Party.” This Mickey Mouse silent movie was released in 1932. After that, we would watch “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” an old flick that seems to have come from the same era. Each family member would take a turn reading a verse until Santa flew off into the night. After the movie, it was time to go home and get ready for the big day. We would beg our parents to let us open one gift, but because of the Jones tradition and the anticipation that mounted with counting hours, that was a big no-no.
I was 18 when my dad told me I would be receiving my first family Christmas vest. At that age, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it; I was too cool for this foolish vest. What would my friends say? Due to pressure from the family I would slip it on right before I walked in my grandparents on Christmas Eve and take it off as soon as I walked out. I would not be seen wearing this ridiculous ensemble of holiday braggadocio. 
However, a few years later, sometime about the age of 23 or 24, it was if I was visited by the “ghost of Jones family Christmas vest past.” I was encouraged to take the family tackiness to the local watering hole to spread some Christmas cheer. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I would be a very popular man in the club. In fact, I had ladies of all ages and even a few men ask me where I got my vest. The attention lasted throughout the evening and from that magical night forward I have always enjoyed wearing my Jones family vest with confidence and pride.
In recent years, the original vest given to me in 1983 had shrunk, sequins had started to fall off, buttons popped off and a few stains from years of partying required my step-mother to “expand” the vest and add some new “bling-bling.” Today the vest is as good as new. I have been wearing to parties and have it on today for my Rotary Club’s Christmas party. It won’t rest until the holidays are over.
It’s a Jones family tradition that I enjoy carrying on, however I am not quite as flamboyant as my father and grandfather. If you live in Johnson City, most people recognize the Jones vest. However, here in Williamson County, I enjoy people asking me about it, and it brings back great memories when I talk about it.
I hope your family enjoys the Christmas traditions that make each family unique. From the Williamson Herald family to yours, just like reading from the projector screen in my grandparents living room, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

Posted on: 12/21/2013


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