Christmas in July is not a wholly Australian tradition but, in Australia, it seems to have its origins in the Blue Mountains, NSW. The story goes that a group of Irish travellers staying at the Mountain Heritage Guesthouse convinced their host, Gary Crockett, that the snowy weather made it feel like Christmas. Accordingly, he produced a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, initiating a tradition that is now known in the mountains as Yulefest.
You would expect Christmas in July to be a southern hemisphere phenomenon, replicating the winter Christmases that gave rise to traditions of rich food, log fires and Santa snow. However, there is a northern hemisphere equivalent going back more than a hundred years. There was even a Hollywood movie called Christmas in July (1940) and the retail industry in the USA apparently seizes upon the concept as a marketing ploy at an otherwise uneventful time of year. It seems that, in the heat of summer, people try to remind themselves of how it feels to be cold.
Other southern hemisphere countries (including, but not limited to, South Africa and New Zealand) are also known to celebrate Christmas in July. Here in Australia, the idea was raised in jest as early as 1918, when the Dubbo Dispatch and Wellington Independent suggested that it was boring to have Christmas at the same time every year, writing:
Think of the possibilities of having a Christmas in July. Santa Claus’ garb with then look rational, and the kiddies’ gorging of plum duff would not be so unnatural as it is under the present slavish devotion to the traditions of the Old Land.
Clearly, no-one took the idea seriously, although there are reports of a few children’s parties with a Christmas in July theme in the 1930s and 1950s (one featuring a ‘Mother Snow‘ instead of Father Christmas) and the odd English ex-pat may have embraced it for a dinner with compatriots. For the hospitality industry, though, it all seems to have started with the Mountain Heritage in Katoomba, NSW, in 1980.
Yulefest is now an annual event in the Blue Mountains, with carol singing, decorations, turkey and plum pudding abounding. And the idea has spread. You can do a Christmas in July cruise on the Kookaburra Showboat in Brisbane, visit Christmas markets at The Rocks in Sydney or Federation Square in Melbourne, pop along to Winter Wonderlights at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat or, for a truly white “Christmas”, head to the snowfields.