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Christmas in July. July 31, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Sweltering through another 90-degree-plus, humid July day, our friend Ben found myself wondering about the origin of the expression “Christmas in July.” Around here, it typically applies to deep discounts on retail merchandise at July’s end, implying both that you can afford to treat yourself to these great deals as if it were Christmas and that, if you have the foresight to do your Christmas shopping early, you can not just get it out of the way but get presents everyone will love for a lot less than you’d pay during the actual runup to Christmas.

But I say, forget sales. I don’t know about you, but the best Christmas present our friend Ben could possibly receive in July is a spate of cool, humidity-free days and the resulting reduction in our electric bill. Some regular rainfall on our veggie beds wouldn’t hurt, either. Santa, are you listening?!!! Oh, and I forgot about winning the lottery…

I was still curious about the origin of that phrase “Christmas in July.” Did some canny ad man coin it for some long-ago summer sale at Macy’s? Did a Depression-era writer, desperate for cash and drawing inspiration from O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi,” turn a neighbor’s little July windfall into one of his own? Did anybody really know for sure? I decided to enjoy a little visit with my good friend Google and his all-knowing ally, Wikipedia.

It turns out that the tale behind the origin of Christmas in July would make a great short story of its own. It begins in the 1800s, and the plot involves a girls’ summer camp, a fraternity, a French opera, a missionary church, and a war-relief effort. In the beginning, sales had nothing to do with it.

According to the Wikipedia entry:

* The first “Christmas in July” party was celebrated by an Ohio fraternity in July 1884. 

* The first actual use of the phrase “Christmas in July” was in an 1894 English translation of the French opera Werther: “When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season.”

* In 1933, a girls’ camp in North Carolina began celebrating an annual Christmas in July, complete with a tree, gifts, and even a visit from Santa Claus. 

* In 1940, Preston Sturges directed a Hollywood comedy film called “Christmas in July.”

* In 1942, a pastor at a church in Washington, D.C. instituted the annual celebration of “Christmas Presents in July,” which he had brought from his earlier post in Philadelphia, complete with a gift-covered Christmas tree. His goal was to collect presents in plenty of time to distribute them to the church’s worldwide missions. By 1946, the Christmas in July service began to be broadcast on the radio, that era’s equivalent to television.

* During World War II, the U.S. Post Office, in conjunction with the U.S. Army and Navy, launched a Christmas in July campaign to make sure servicemen and -women overseas got their Christmas cards, correspondence and gifts in time for Christmas.

* The advertising industry picked up on the trend and turned it into a sales opportunity for their clients as early as 1950, when “Christmas in July” sales were first advertised in print.

Yowee zowie! This was a much richer and deeper tale than our friend Ben had bargained for, and just goes to show that pursuing your curiosity can reward you in ways you never imagined, as long as you’re not a cat.

Hey, Santa! Want to send a little cold air down our way from your home base at the North Pole? Surely you’ve got plenty to spare. And Silence Dogood and I have been very good this year…

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