The Real Story Behind Christmas in July Started in North Carolina
Pack your bags, we’re headed back in time–and to camp.
Christmas in July has become such a cultural staple each year that you may not have even thought about who first dreamed up such a cheery, potentially cheesy, midsummer celebration. Well, as it turns out, per Country Living's reporting, it started right here in the South. (No, it wasn’t marketers!) We can’t say we’re surprised though. Christmas in July started 84 years ago on July 24th and 25th in 1933 at a girls’ camp called Keystone Camp in Brevard, North Carolina.
"I never thought it was unique to us," Page Ives Lemel, the current director of Keystone Camp, said in an interview. "It seems like something other camps would do." But not so. According to the camp’s 100th anniversary celebration book, the first time anyone celebrated “Christmas in July” was at Keystone, per the request of camp co-founder Fannie Holt.
"Miss Fannie was such a character: a whimsical, dreaming, creative type who added all of this uniqueness to the program," says Lemel. "Most camps number the cabins to identify them. Here, we have Crabapple, Skylark, and Crow's Nest, for example. Instead of junior and senior campers we have Elves, Pixies, and Dryads."
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The first Christmas in July included carolers, a Christmas Tree, Santa Claus, presents, and fake snow made of cotton. As the tradition evolved, campers would use laundry bags as makeshift stockings, which they placed outside their cabins to be filled with candy overnight. Eventually elves, reindeer, and Mrs. Claus joined the act, along with a camp-wide gift exchange, counselors included. Lemel, who is the fourth generation in her family to hold the title of director, said the gifts were crafty and creative. "One time my dad got a bejeweled toilet plunger decorated with feathers and glitter," she said in the interview.
The tradition carries on today, and blistering-hot Southern summers have yet to stop the camp’s tradition—now they simply go for a dip in the lake post-presents. To bring a little Christmas in July spirit home, check out our ideas for a Christmas in July party and which movies to watch when.