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Article: The Origins of Christmas in July

The Origins of Christmas in July

A Celebration Not To Be Missed!

Have you ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas in July? Where it originated from? Who coined the term? Where it’s celebrated? What its traditions are? If so, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve had fun doing a deep dive into Christmas in July (including watching the 1940 comedy film of the same name!) and have pleasure in sharing with you the entertaining stories and facts we uncovered! 

origin of christmas in july

Setting the Trend

If you’re among the many people (or so our straw poll suggests!) who think Christmas in July came about so southern hemisphere people could enjoy the trappings of a white Christmas, then you’ve kind of landed at the tail end of the story!

In fact, Christmas in July goes way back and originated in the northern hemisphere. One of the earliest recordings of the event was over a hundred years ago among a group of vaudeville actors in Long Island, New York. Vaudeville shows (an early form of variety show) were extremely popular, with theatres sometimes playing up to five shows a day. The Christmas season was particularly busy and vaudeville performers, as theatre veteran Fred Allen commented, had minimal downtime: “Most of the vaudeville actors spent their Christmas days on trains, in dingy dressing rooms, or in drab hotels.”

Not wanting to miss out, a group of inspired performers from the Long Island Good Hearted Thespians Society (LIGHTS) decided to capitalise on the summertime theatre closures and celebrate the event in July. And so it was, from around 1915 until 1930, when vaudeville was in decline, that LIGHTS hosted an annual Christmas in July party at their Freeport clubhouse - a ritual cherished by a generation of performers!

Christmas in July: A Vaudeville Tradition

Christmas in July: A Vaudeville Tradition

Credit: My Merry Christmas 

Christmas in July on Stage

Soon after, Miss Fannie Holt, co-founder of the aptly-named Keystone Camp in Brevard, North Carolina, introduced the festivity via a stage show on the 24th and 25th of July, 1933. Complete with carols, a Christmas tree and Santa with presents in tow, the show was a hit. They even had cotton imitation snow that the carol singers threw around the stage, much to the delight of the audience. 

Taking place in late July, six months after (and before) the 25th December festivity, this was the heart of summer and hot, with average temperatures around 30oC. "The fact that we didn't lose Santa to a heat stroke was pretty fortunate," said the camp director

So, clearly, they had none of the yearning that those of us “down under” have for a white Christmas. In point of fact, the impetus for the inaugural Keystone Camp event (which continues to this day) seems to have been Miss Holt’s desire to create something new and captivating for the girls attending the camp. And what a success it was!

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp

Credit: Country Living

A Holy Festivity

The concept had caught on, with another interesting venue being the Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. In 1942, according to ClausNet, the congregation celebrated Christmas in July just as you would in December, with gift giving, carols and a Christmas-themed sermon. The following year, they covered a Christmas tree with donations, apparently to allow ample time for their distribution to worldwide missions by Christmas. And, by 1946, the church service was so popular that it began being broadcast over local radio.

Also looking forward to the main event, the U.S. Post Office and U.S. Army and Navy officials joined with American greeting card companies to launch a Christmas in July campaign in 1944 to encourage the early mailing of cards to soldiers overseas during World War II.

And so, the tradition had begun! 

The concept itself, however, had originated well before, back in the 19th century!

Christmas in July: An Accidental Beginning

In 1892, the French opera Werther, by acclaimed composer Jules Massenet, enjoyed huge popularity, at home and abroad. Based on Goethe’s first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, the opera’s libretto was written by Édouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann and translated into English in 1894 by Elizabeth Beall Ginty. While Goethe’s storyline featured Christmas, there was no mention of July. But the new writers on the scene changed things up a bit! 

At one point in the story, a group of French children come together in the month of July to rehearse a Christmas song. This prompts another character, who’s observing the rehearsal, to declare:

"Vous chantez Noël en juillet... c'est s'y prendre à l'avance."

"When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season!" 

And there we have it! – seemingly the first mention of what has become a long-standing and cherished festive tradition!

Werther at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique

Werther at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique

Credit: French Art Lyrique

Christmas in July on the Big Screen

In 1940, Christmas in July made it to the cinema. In a Rom-Com directed by Preston Sturges and starring Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, a whole neighbourhood is transformed when Christmas arrives early, thanks to an apparent lucky break by office worker Jimmy MacDonald. 

Alas, it is all a ruse! Jimmy has been tricked by his co-workers into believing that he’s won $25,000 in a slogan writing contest … and the truth unfortunately does come out. 

But not before he and his girlfriend, Betty Casey, have gone on a wild spending spree, buying, among other things, a new bed for Jimmy’s Mum (she has a bad back), an iron for Betty’s Mum, a doll for Sophie, something for Mrs Schwartz and the Casey kids, of course … and then just something for everyone, working their way up one side of the neighbourhood street and down the other. 

As they head home with the cavalcade of cars bearing gifts, Jimmy turns to Betty with the lines we’ve been waiting for:

__Can you see the faces on everyone when we get there?

__Yeah, like Christmas in July!

It’s a lovely story, with a happy ending, and would make for fun viewing as you celebrate this July!

Christmas in July (1940)

Christmas in July (1940)

Credit: IMDb

The Australian origins of Christmas in July

Spreading its roots from the northern hemisphere, Christmas in July didn’t take long to become a well-established tradition south of the equator. In addition to Australia and New Zealand, it’s celebrated in many other countries, including Argentina, Brazil and South Africa. It’s also commonly referred to as ‘Yulefest’ or ‘Yuletide.’

In Australia, it seems we can thank Irish tourists, visiting the Blue Mountains in 1980, for starting off the tradition. Word has it that they convinced the owner of a local hotel to hold a Yulefest party, which was such a success that it continues to this day. What’s more, Yuletide festivities are now a highlight of the winter attractions offered by the Blue Mountains, particularly in Katoomba. 

And wherever you go in Australia, you’ll find people making the most of the (generally) cold July weather to capture the atmosphere of a northern hemisphere, “white” Christmas. This means feasts of roast turkey with all the trimmings, delicious hot drinks and the like, and coming together to celebrate with family and friends, perhaps in front of a blazing hot fire and, of course— for the sheer joy of it—sharing a Bonbon Fusion adventure!

An Australian Christmas in July

An Australian Christmas in July

Credit: Christmas in Australia

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