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 (or as some people call it, Half Christmas) 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."

Christmas in July at Camp
Courtesy of Keystone Camp

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.

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp carries on today, and blistering-hot Southern summers have yet to stop the tradition—now campers simply go for a dip in the lake post-presents.

A 1940 movie called, yes, Christmas in July put the phrase into the country's consciousness. Slowly over the years, the "Christmas in July" expression was used to grab attention and call people to action. According to the Courier-Journal, a Washington, D.C. church started a summer donation drive in 1942 to gather holiday gifts to send to missions around the world in time for Christmas. They called it Christmas in July. The U.S. Post Office started a similar drive during the World War II years to gather and mail gifts to overseas soldiers.

The Christmas in July concept was so catchy that retailers started using it. How else do you lure shoppers in on a beautiful summer day? More companies created ways to leverage the whimsical idea of merging 100-degree days with hot cocoa and Santa vibes, and eventually, we got to the genius marketing strategy of the Hallmark Channel's Christmas in July in 2012. When you're hiding from the blazing heat outside, escaping to the snowy settings of a Hallmark rom-com is the ultimate way to chill out. It's a win-win for the company and fans: Hallmark runs old favorite holiday movies and gives a tantalizing peek at their upcoming premieres.

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.

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