It has been another great Christmas in July here at Recollections! I loved sharing more tips on creating a great Mrs. Claus costume and loved that I got to share something brand new with you; Frank Baum’s Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. I thought that it might be fun to end the month with some vintage photos of Christmas in July, possibly some from my former home of Australia. Why? Because I was very much under the impression that Christmas in July started down under as a way for the country to enjoy Christmas during their winter months. Well…I was wrong! I quickly came to learn that Christmas in July is an American invention for the purpose of having a bit of summer fun, with a dash of marketing and sales potential. The history of Christmas in July dates back to the 1940s, which is a decade that I know a lot of you enjoy. I’ve got the scoop here!
Thank you so much for celebrating another Christmas in July with Recollections. And if you are a Mrs. Claus out there, please get in touch so that I may feature your work once the holiday season rolls around.
Now playing: Christmas in July starting Dick Powell
Have you ever heard of the 1940 film Christmas in July? Or seen it? You may be missing out. Noted film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has listed the movie on his list of the best films not mentioned by the AFI on their famed Top 100 American films list. And its release may mark the beginning of Christmas in July celebrations.
While I haven’t yet seen the film, it does sound absolutely delightful. The plot follows a few days in the life of clerk Jimmy MacDonald who has entered a contest to write the best slogan for Maxford House Coffee. His slogan, “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk” is received with confusion and humor by his co-workers and fiance. When the company fails to announce a winner, his co-workers trick him into believing he has won and go to the coffee company headquarters to receive the $25,000 reward.
Believing the telegram created by the co-workers to be authentic, Dr. Maxford himself believes a decision must have been made without him. A check is issued, and Jimmy embarks on a spending spree with his fiance Betty. Among the items purchased is an engagement ring for Betty and a sofa couch for Jimmy’s mother.
The film appears to have been well-received. Today, Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 95% ranking by its critics and lists a 77% ranking by viewers. The concept of Christmas in July was well-enough received that by 1942 celebrations had begun taking place.
Christmas in July goes national
By 1944 the unofficial holiday had already started to be celebrated as a joint fun summer occasion and marketing opportunity. The U.S. Army, along with the U.S. Post Office created an entire campaign to raise support for the troops. Says the New York Times on July 28, 1944:
“Christmas had a dress rehearsal yesterday. While the temperature soared 300 postal and Army and Navy officials met with representatives of the advertising and greeting-card industries to start the Early Christmas Mailing Campaign in a Yuletide setting — complete with holly, eggnog and holiday music.
Brig. Gen. William E. Chickering, director of the Army Postal Service of the Adjutant General’s office, discussed the value of mail as a morale builder. “This campaign,” he said, “is directed toward the supplying of mental ammunition to the fighting front. No matter how far and wide the troops are deployed no soldier is beyond the reach of the Army Postal Service.”
I find it quite touching that the Army and Post Office would go to such lengths to make sure that the troops were remembered come holiday season.
Christmas in July: an opportunity to celebrate with loved ones
After the Army/Post Office campaign, Christmas in July became a regular, though not a too common celebration in American towns. I came across a touching 1945 New York Times article that showed the effectiveness of the Army/Post Office campaign in solidifying the tradition. The article tells begins with the headline “Queens Soldier Comes Home From Wars And Celebrates Belated Christmas in July” and tells readers about Private William F. Dinse returning home from the war and enjoying the best Christmas he had ever had, in the middle of July.
“His mother, Mrs. Otto Dinse, wrote to him last Dec. 25, when he was serving in Germany, that she was storing away the tree and all the gifts intended for him, and that when he came home the Christmas celebration he had missed would be held.
That promise came true over the week-end, Private Dinse made known yesterday, The Christmas tree was duly set up, the candles were lighted, and the gifts were hung on the lower branches or placed on a sheet of artificial snow underneath.
Then friends and relatives gathered round, clinked glasses and sang carols, impervious to the fact that an electric fan was buzzing in a corner. Private Dinse’s five children, two boys and three girls, were discreet enough not to ask how Santa Claus had managed to get his reindeer and sleigh out of their north polar stables for the occasion, while grownups murmured that it was probably a dispensation from the Office of Defense Transportation.”
Isn’t that a touching scene to imagine?
The future of Christmas in July
Now that I know more about the history of Christmas in July I will be looking forward to it in a brand new way. Between now and then, why not join me in thinking about how to use this quirky idea to bring joy to someone who can use it or to let someone you are missing know you care?