Reading Time: 5 minutes

How did “Christmas in July” start?: Making every day Christmas

Evoking Christmas in July, a Santa Claus hat sits on a pool deck
© Maridav/stock.adobe.com

It’s July, and that can only mean one thing: Christmas! 

I watched my first Hallmark Channel Christmas movie of 2021 over the weekend. Hallmark got an early jump on “Christmas in July” at the end of June and I didn’t miss it. 

How did the “Christmas in July” tradition, which is now observed by many businesses, begin? 

You may think it started as a marketing ploy, but you would be wrong. 

The first Christmas in July

It is believed the first Christmas in July event was begun at a girls’ camp in North Carolina in 1933 by the camp’s cofounder, Fannie Holt. Current camp director Page Ives Lemel described the founder for an interview: “Miss Fannie was such a character: a whimsical, dreaming, creative type who added all of this uniqueness to the program.” 

Page, who is the fourth generation in her family to lead the camp, spent time there every summer while growing up. It wasn’t until recent years that she realized her Christmas in July camp experience wasn’t typical. “I never thought it was unique to us,” she says. “It seems like something other camps would do.”  

The camp chronicled its history in a book released in 2016 during its one-hundredth year. It was while flipping through an early draft that Page learned that the first time anyone ever actually observed “Christmas in July” was at the camp. By the time Page’s parents took over, during the 1970s, the annual celebration had evolved into quite the production.  

A short history of Christmas in July

The first use of the phrase “Christmas in July” is believed to be in the 1892 French opera Werther. In the story, a group of children rehearses a Christmas song in July, to which a character responds, “When you sing Christmas songs in July, you rush the season.” The phrase was popularized in 1940 by the release of a comedy movie with the same name.   

In 1942, a church in Washington DC observed “Christmas in July” with carols and a sermon, “Christmas Presents in July.” The event was modeled after a similar one at a church the pastor led in Philadelphia. 

In 1944, the US Post Office and Army and Navy officials threw a “Christmas in July” luncheon to promote an early Christmas mailing campaign for servicemen serving overseas during World War II. 

Retailers began using the Christmas in July themes as summertime promotions in the early 1950s, and now the emphasis is used more as a marketing tool. 

Happy holidays in July?

I can’t help but wonder why it is it okay for advertisers and promoters to use “Christmas” in July but not in December. It may be only a matter of time before we see that change. 

Even the camp where the first known Christmas in July event was held has made changes. A few years ago, the camp became more inclusive with its celebration, adding Hanukkah, Halloween, and Easter rituals into the mix. 

I can remember the time when Christmas displays were not put up in stores until after Thanksgiving (that reveals a lot about my age!). Yet I don’t begrudge the earlier and earlier displays in stores. 

I enjoy visiting the craft stores that add Christmas displays in July, and I understand why that is necessary. The artists who create Christmas crafts have to begin early. Every year, I create Christmas gift bags and ornaments and often include my grandchildren on the fun. I enjoy hearing Christmas music in July and seeing the beautiful Christmas lights and snow scenes in the Hallmark movies during the hot summer days.  

I love Christmas in spite of the commercialization of the holy days commemorating our Savior’s birth. Whether it’s Christmas in July or Christmas Day, there’s one thing that cannot be changed or canceled: Jesus’ birth (which most likely did not happen on December 25). 

And in July, at least we are reminded of “Christmas,” not just Happy Holidays. 

A Christmas people

I had a poster in college that said “We are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” I think we can say the same thing about Christmas. We are a Christmas people. 

The “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah is my favorite staple of the Christmas season. Messiah, which was originally written for Easter, is appropriately drawn directly from Scripture

When God sent Jesus, his only Son, into our world, he did so for every human being. One of the best-known and loved Scriptures in Christendom is John 3:16, a verse many of us learned in childhood and repeat often: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  

That’s inclusive. His love is for everyone. Christmas, or “Christ mass,” is for everyone.   

In a response to a reader’s question, evangelist Billy Graham once wrote: “The Bible is God’s ‘love letter’ to us, telling us not only that He loves us, but showing us what He has done to demonstrate His love.”  

When we read his love letter, how can we not have a hallelujah song?