Christmas Sweaters and Boxing Day Reconciliation: The Warmth of a Mother’s Love
by Louise Freeman Davis
As extreme cold swept through much of the United States the week before Christmas, many Harry Potter fans undoubtedly donned warm and wooly wizarding world apparel: House scarves, thick woolen socks, or perhaps even Weasley Christmas sweaters. Harry receives one of these hand-knit sweaters in every book except Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As with many recurring elements of the Harry Potter books, a close look at the annual Christmas sweater gifts reveals more significance than might be initially apparent.
Molly’s hand-stitched Christmas sweaters are a tangible symbol of her powerful maternal love. After Ron tells her that Harry is not expecting gifts from his family, she extends that love to Harry. The Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Christmas sweater was likely the first piece of clothing ever made specifically for the Boy Who Lived. Harry, after a lifetime of wearing Dudley’s cast-offs – including a brown-and-orange monstrosity so hideous that he accidentally uses magic to shrink it – clearly appreciates the gift. Not only does he wear it proudly, but also, somewhat atypically for an 11-year-old boy, Harry remembers to say thank you for it at King’s Cross at the end of the term.
Fred and George, despite their regular conflicts with Molly, also appreciate the Sorcerer’s Stone sweaters more than the ostensibly better-behaved Ron and Percy. The twins call their sweaters “lovely and warm” and insist that Percy wear his.
‘Get it on, Percy, come on, we’re all wearing ours, even Harry got one.’
‘I—don’t—want—’ said Percy thickly, as the twins forced the sweater over his head, knocking his glasses askew.
‘And you’re not sitting with the prefects today, either,’ said George. ‘Christmas is a time for family.’
They frog-marched Percy from the room, his arms pinned to his side by his sweater.” (203)
Percy’s resistance to wearing his sweater foreshadows his later estrangement from the family; in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, he reduces his mother to tears by sending his Christmas sweater back to her. As for Ron, his sweater is an unwelcome reminder of his overshadowed status in his family; his gift is always maroon, his least favorite color, and despite what we see in the movie, in the book, Ron’s sweater is not personalized with his initial like his brothers’ are.
Much as Harry’s summer visits to the Dursleys renew Lily’s protective charm, Molly’s Christmas gifts renew her connection to him, establishing her as his de facto adoptive mother. Biological kinship is necessary for the protection that resides in Harry’s skin, but Molly’s hand-knit sweaters are a type of “second skin”: a visual representation of the manufactured familial bonds Harry shares with the Weasley family. During the first Christmas of Bill and Fleur’s courtship, Molly disapproves of the relationship and intentionally omits Fleur from her list of sweater recipients. Harry, in contrast, is included every year, with sweaters that relate thematically to each book.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The sweater itself is not described, but Harry wears his gift to Christmas dinner and “didn’t even care that Draco Malfoy was making loud, snide remarks about his new sweater from the Slytherin table” (212-213). Given that Harry, at the time, is suspected of being the Heir of Slytherin, Malfoy’s taunting emphasizes Harry’s connection to both the Weasleys and Gryffindor.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: This year’s sweater is scarlet with a Gryffindor lion, suggesting Molly was thinking of Harry rescuing Ginny with the sword of Gryffindor when she knit it.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The sweater is green with a decorative dragon. When Harry sees it, he realizes Charlie told Molly about his victory over the Hungarian Horntail.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: The sweater is described only as “the usual hand-knitted jumper” (502) but comes at a time when “Umbridge was steadily depriving him of everything that made his life at Hogwarts worth living” (552). The normality of the gift is a reminder that not even Umbridge can disrupt Harry’s ties to the Weasley family.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The sweater is decorated with a Golden Snitch, in honor of Harry’s elevation to Quidditch captain.
On Christmas Eve in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry is on the run with Hermione and estranged from Ron, and therefore not in a position to receive a seventh sweater. Nonetheless, Molly’s Christmas gifts are present in Harry’s memories of Hogwarts Christmases since he tearfully recalls “Ron in a hand-knitted sweater” (324) while listening to Christmas bells from the church near the Godric’s Hollow cemetery. Unfortunately, the dawn of Christmas Day brings more misfortune: Harry first loses his wand in Nagini’s attack, and then his faith in Dumbledore is shattered when he reads about his past bigotry in Rita Skeeter’s book. Harry is left lamenting, “All was ashes: How much more could he lose? Ron, Dumbledore, the phoenix wand . . . ” (360).
Recovery begins only after the transition to Boxing Day in the Forest of Dean, and as part of that recovery, the Weasley sweaters reappear. In the frigid forest, Harry begins his nightly watch “wearing all the sweaters he owned” (DH 365). Although not explicitly stated, we can safely assume these are his accumulated Weasley sweaters; when packing to leave Privet Drive, Harry would have been foolish to waste valuable rucksack space on Dudley’s revolting hand-me-downs. After following the silver doe to the icy pond, Harry strips off the sweaters before jumping in to retrieve the sword of Gryffindor and nearly dies as the locket Horcrux tries to strangle him.
One tradition associated with Boxing Day is foxhunting, so it is fitting that, on this night, Ron, whose Patronus is the hunting dog the Jack Russell terrier, is roaming the woods and seeking his friends. He arrives just in time to pull Harry from the pond, and their reconciliation unfolds through the veil of Molly’s Christmas knitting:
As he dragged sweater after sweater over his head, Harry stared at Ron, half expecting him to have disappeared every time he lost sight of him, and yet he had to be real: He had just dived into the pool, he had saved Harry’s life.” (371)
Although Molly herself is absent, her maternal love is present in the Forest of Dean, woven through years’ worth of Weasley Christmas sweaters. The seed Ron plants early in their friendship, when he prompts his mother to include Harry in the holiday tradition, has borne tremendous fruit. Harry and Ron may have missed their usual holiday gifts from Molly during their Deathly Hallows year, but the totality of her generosity is present at their reconciliation. After the destruction of the Horcrux, Ron is reassured that Harry is not a usurper of either Hermione’s love or Molly’s maternal affection. From this moment forward, Harry and Ron are truly friends who stick closer than brothers, united by not only their mission to defeat Voldemort but also their shared maternal bond with Molly Weasley.
Happy Boxing Day!