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Christmas in July Started at This Girls Summer Camp in 1935

The tradition was first described as being full of "mystery and wonder."

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp
Photography by: Keystone Camp

Does anything ring quite as sweetly in the ears as two Christmases per year? For one girls' camp in Transylvania County, North Carolina, it's not an untouchable fantasy, but a magical reality.

 

Welcome to Christmas in July — it's as wonderful as it sounds.

 

The unorthodox celebration originated at Keystone Camp on July 24, 1935, complete with gift exchanges, Santa Claus and cotton imitation snow. From there, it was an annual tradition that remains ingrained in camp policy today.

 

"As a child, the day was quite elaborate, with candlelight caroling by our counselors-in-training on Christmas Eve," Camp Director Page Lemel says. "We would hang an empty laundry bag on our doors to be filled with candy after we went to bed. Santa would make his appearance in the afternoon for our Sunday afternoon program. The campers would come down in pajamas or dressed all in red and green. We would have cookies and hot cocoa (a little warm for mid-July), and Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves and reindeer would arrive in the back of a red pickup truck."

 

[TRY THIS: Host Your Own Very Merry Christmas-in-July Party]
Christmas in July at Keystone Camp
Photography by: Keystone Camp

And of course, there was the Christmas tree — which, according to Lemel, would adorn the camp pavilion.

 

"Once Santa and Mrs. Claus were seated, presents would be passed out to each camper," she says. "The week before we would draw someone else's name and gifts would be made in the camp craft shop. In recent years, the candlelight caroling lost out to a Saturday night dance with a boys' camp that would get us back to camp too late."

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp
Photography by: Keystone Camp

The festivities of the additional Christmas included classic holiday games, such as pass the parcel and caroling competitions. Lemel says the celebration is all-encompassing in the present day.

 

"As we became more ecumenical with our camper population, Christmas and Hanukkah began to share the time, and as the camp schedule changed to shorter sessions, we did not have a full week to devote to present-making," she says. "Thus, the spirit of the day remains, but the celebration is more general."

Christmas in July at Keystone Camp
Photography by: Keystone Camp

Surprisingly, Christmas at Keystone is something campers and camp administration alike have always taken for granted.

 

"I think we are all stunned to have so much interest in the tradition this year when it has never been on the radar before," Lemel says. "We have now been contacted by four national media outlets. Last summer, we turned 100. We are the oldest private summer camp in the south, and we could hardly generate interest in that milestone, so the interest in Christmas is quite something!"

 

The spirit of Christmas, it seems, lives year-round... especially here.

 

Feeling the Christmas spirit? Watch how to make a tinsel-inspired silver fringe tree:

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