As the dog days of July fade into August’s sweltering haze, we bid a sorrowful goodbye to Christmas in July. Homes, department stores, and television stations stow away festoons of evergreen and tinsel, decor not to be seen again until the twilight days of the calendar year. Christmas in July offers a virtual breath of cool, crisp air in the often oppressive summer heat, but how did this curious custom originate?
Although differing opinions exist concerning the inaugural celebration of Christmas in July, one of the most widely excepted versions of the tale claims that Fannie Holt, the co-founder of Camp Keystone in North Carolina, first devised the idea of this novelty Noel in 1933. Described by campers as a whimsical leader with a creative soul, Miss Holt requested a Christmas-themed social for the campers on the dates of July 24 and 25. An all-girls camp, Keystone readily embraced the idea of Christmas in July. The girls crafted homemade gifts, sang carols, and sported pajamas during the festivities; Santa Claus even made an annual appearance at Camp Keystone during the celebration throwing bits cotton to imitate falling snow. Many of the campers who witnessed the first Christmas in July mused that no one in attendance realized how unique their social really was. One camper even remarked that “‘it seems like something other camps would do.'”
However, Camp Keystone’s claim to fame does not remain unchallenged. The Long Island Good Hearted Thespians Society reportedly gathered to celebrate Christmas every year on July 4th in the latter years of the nineteenth century, decades before the girls of Camp Keystone engaged in their maverick merrymaking. Most of its members were actors or musicians and busy performing during the traditional Christmas season. However, patrons were reluctant to frequent theaters without air conditioning on searing summer days, leaving plenty of idle time for the thespians to celebrate an early (or late) Christmas.
After Christmas in July became vogue in American society, activists and promoters wasted no time in converting the unusual holiday into a tool. A prominent pastor in Washington, D.C., encouraged his parishioners to buy gifts during Christmas in July to send around the world via their global missions network, and Americans nationwide celebrated the holiday by mailing gifts to troops at war overseas.
Today, Christmas in July is largely a marketing tool. Shoppers flock to tinsel-clad stores to revel in the sights and sounds of the Christmas season five months before the bona fide celebration commences. In spite of Christmas in July’s contemporary commercial makeover, all it takes is a little imagination to temporarily trade in swimming pools and flip flops for cozy sweaters and the aroma of evergreen during this extraordinary observance.