I was today old when it dawned on me that Christmas in July was not the “half-birthday of sorts” of the Birthday commemorated at Christmas. I had just always thought, “Christmas in July–July 25th–makes sense!” No, that would be June 25th… So what in the world is Christmas in July? Where did it come from? Why is it a thing? And why July?
I turned to my source of all temporal knowledge, Wikipedia. And this led me down several bunny trails of really cool research, one of which–the origin story–I would like to share today, on the true half-birthday-of-the-not-real-birthday-yet-celebrated-on-this-day-due-to-coincide-with-winter-solstice-of-Jesus, June 25th.
So, per the great Wiki in the clouds, the earliest reference to Christmas in July is found in a ninteenth-century french opera, Werther. “In the story, a group of children rehearses a Christmas song in July, to which a character responds: “When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season.” It is a translation of the French: “vous chantez Noël en juillet… c’est s’y prendre à l’avance.” This opera is based on Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Christmas features in the book, but July does not.” (Wikipedia)
Well, as I love to draw parallels, let me grab my crayons:
1. When I think of Goethe I think of Faust. I think of some of his other works as well–deep, dark, sober, tragic, even macabre. (maybe I just associate the poor guy’s name with the dark subculture that I grew up near, and often dipped into!) Intellectually I realize that he made great contributions to both the arts and science (which to me is redeeming in itself) but I can’t seem to get past the association of tragedy with the man. Perhaps it’s fitting that the origin of the “calendar opposite” of Christmas should have been found in a work inspired by Goethe.
2. I love French (I lived there two years and have a degree in French) and I love music. So… be sure that I have now searched (for far too long) to find this opera as a full-length recording. I did find a few, but they were sung by non-french singers and sub-titled in other languages (and one seemed to be set in the mid-twentieth century?). I listened to most of it (German and Italian subtitles and accents)–it is sweeping and grand, as a good opera should be. It was devastating. And decidedly French! I really enjoyed several pieces recorded by various artists, and these were follow-able (primarily due to English subtitles!) This connection was precious to me!
3. I enjoyed pondering the translation of “s’y prendre a l’avance” from the opera. (forgive the lack of accents, I’m sure I could create them, I’m just lazy). The translation by the Wiki’s: “you rush the season” is so well-penned, and is colloquially correct. However, the direct translation is something a little more like “it is to take the season early”. Or “to look at the season in advance”.
4. Now to the amazing connection of music to this origin story. Music is an enormous part of Christmas, so it would be intrinsically involved. But the very nature of music as a element that typically takes an inordinate amount of time and preparation (unless you’re Handel and wrote Messiah in about three weeks <during the summer>
or you’re this guy:
who’s remarkable-check him out)
creates an inherent unseasonality to Christmas Music. Let me repeat…no, let me sum up:
Christmas Music preparation is NATURALLY unseasonable.
I’ve spent most of my adult life in retail. Retailers are the butt of the unseasonability joke. We have the Easter aisle set by February, Halloween by August, and Christmas, well, you know… At my music store, I am currently preparing for MY “christmas”, which is back to school, and I have been since long before school was out for the summer. It’s just in the fabric of our industry to be planning for the seasons that keep us afloat well before the seasons themselves surface.
But it doesn’t stop at retail. One of my best friends runs a theater in Frederick, MD, and over the years he has written and produced some of the most delightful Christmas shows you’ll ever find. These shows follow a fairly typical pattern: a really cheesy plot, with really cheesy characters, saying really cheesy lines, ending with a very poignant moment, all surrounded by wonderful Christmas music performances, woven into the fabric of the story. They were wonderful, and I was blessed to be a part of several of them.
But as the music of the world would shift every May and June into the latest feel-good, upbeat, roll-down-the-windows-and-blast-the-bass-out-the-rear-speakers summer tunes, my friend would pull out his enormous collection of Christmas music and get to work. At that same time, choir directors are turning to both historically proven and contemporarily pleasing works that celebrate the Holy Nativity. And every pop or country star on the planet is trying their hand at their own version of a Christmas Classic.
So why is this important to me? Setting aside all the cool parallels, as a Santa Claus (a singing one at that) I find myself in the “prendre a l’avance” state of affairs regarding Christmas. I think about it alot. I prepare for it. I plan for it. So do my hosts.
So get to thinking about Christmas! Plan those Christmas in July parties! Plan those visits! Set up a call! I’ll be hanging out in the sun waiting to connect virtually with all my little friends! I’ll also be around for any in-person visits or parties that you may be holding! Send me a note and let’s book a time!
Then go to the beach…