Here’s the story behind this not-so-seasonal Christmas celebration—plus how you can celebrate this year.

By Lisa Milbrand
Updated July 01, 2021

Christmas doesn't have to come only once a year: That's the premise behind Christmas in July. But if you think the idea of Christmas in July was created by retailers or greeting card manufacturers to boost purchases in the midst of a summer slump, you'd be wrong.

What is Christmas in July?

According to legend, Christmas in July was first celebrated at a summer camp in 1933, when Keystone Camp in Brevard, N.C. decided to dedicate two days (July 24 and 25) to the holiday—complete with cotton fake snow, a decked-out tree, a gift exchange, and, of course, Santa. (Southern Living has the full story of how Christmas in July started.)

It first hit pop culture in 1940, when the movie Christmas in July hit theaters. The plot? A man's colleagues prank him into thinking his work won a $25,000 prize—and he goes on a jolly spree of generosity (including finally proposing to his longtime love). By the 1950s, retailers had hit on the concept, and now, Christmas in July sales are a big phenomenon.

How to Celebrate Christmas in July

Some early birds take advantage of Christmas in July sales to get a jump on their holiday gift shopping for December. But Christmas in July may seem especially enticing on its own right now, even without the gift-buying—especially if you missed out on celebrating the holidays together in person this past year. With vaccinations in place and the ability to celebrate outdoors, it's now safe to gather and deck the halls for the holidays in July. Not only that, channeling snowy weather and reading The Polar Express may actually help you beat the heat this summer. Really.

"Reading about cold can take your mind off the thermometer, evoking one's own experience of ice and snow," says Walter A. Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the medical schools of Brown and Tufts Universities and an expert in the placebo effect. "It's also a bit of self-hypnosis."

If you want to gather your loved ones and celebrate Christmas on July 24 and 25, here's how to do it right:

Deck your halls. You don't have to haul out all of your holiday gear. String fairy lights throughout your trees and your backyard or around your living room. If you have a small artificial tree, deck it out with fun and festive summery decor—think seashells, flip-flops, colorful cocktail umbrellas, and a starfish on top.

Get creative with your Christmas in July menu. Do variations on the traditional Christmas fare—consider trying grilled turkey, but pair it with more casual summer sides like panzanella salad in lieu of stuffing and with corn on the cob. Raise a glass of a frozen cocktail in Christmas colors—like strawberry daiquiris and margaritas. And for dessert, cookie ice cream sandwiches and snow cones are a perfect holiday finale.

Bring back the Elf on the Shelf for a summer visit. Your elf can get into all kinds of new indoor—and outdoor—shenanigans (hanging out by the pool, making a snow cone snowman). And besides, who couldn't use a little backup to help keep the kids in line right about now?

Keep it simple with your Christmas in July gifts. Christmas in July doesn't have to be extravagant gift-wise. Give your loved ones some cool, inexpensive items that will make their summer more fun—pool floats, sidewalk chalk, colorful beach towels, a new pair of sunglasses, or pretty shades of nail polish for a summer pedicure.

Find other ways to bring some Christmas fun to your summer. Make s'mores "gingerbread" houses with graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate (and then enjoy!). Break out an old school Slip-n-Slide (or make your own!) in lieu of sledding. Make frozen hot chocolate. Play your favorite Christmas carols, and watch some of the best Christmas movies on Netflix. You'll get into the holiday spirit—no matter how warm the weather is outside.