No longer preoccupied with inventory, sales goals, shipping online orders, and creating magic inside the store, I experienced Christmas in what felt like a brand new way: Christmas as a season to be jolly. To be caring. To be kind. With retail out of the forefront, I began to wonder why the season of merriment couldn't be extended year-round, at least philosophically, if not literally.
You may know of Christmas in July as a retail promotion: discounts, sales, and clearances either all month long or for a few days. The Summer season is typically slow for retailers, so drumming up excitement and business is a necessary move, especially for moving stale or seasonal merchandise that must go to make room for Fall and Winter/Holiday inventory. From a shopper's perspective, sales are fun! And retailers want to participate in their customers' Summer fun.
You may also be familiar with Christmas in July from Summer camp traditions in the South, quirky Christmas-themed community events, and The Hallmark Channel's Summer movie bonanza (count me in for this guilty pleasure).
As a shopkeeper, Christmas in July was a mid-way point for checking in with what was and wasn't working well for Port of Raleigh and what was next. What was next was holiday buying and merry-making.
Now, entirely removed from the retail-specific mindset that informed my holiday experience for five consecutive years, I've begun to believe that the season's merriment should be something we strive for personally and collectively year-round. Christmas in July reminded me of that.
It's good to feel joyous, filled with gratitude, and full of compassion for others. It's good to be surrounded by things we believe are beautiful. It's good to seek the company of those who light us up and share in special moments.
We do this during the holiday season by loading up all of our senses with objects and experiences that bring us joy. We deck the halls with things of beauty, adorn trees with sentimental ornaments, and hang and display bright lights in our homes and cityscapes. We celebrate the beauty of light, and by doing so, we all feel a little lighter and brighter within ourselves.
We give gifts. We share. We expand. We make extra efforts to be kind to those in need and show them empathy via attention, time, or monetary donations. Simple acts of kindness seem to happen more frequently and willingly this time of year.
But why does this concerted effort mostly happen once per year?
Before I say anymore, I'll touch on the materialistic notion of the season. The material aspects are simply a manifestation of the joy, gratitude, and compassion stated above. We show, give, and share these expressions in physical form through gifts, food, and charitable donations. Disdain for the commercialization of the season is understandable if the goal is to keep Christmas's intention pure in a particular doctrine's view. However, I've come to believe that the commercialization of Christmas is the way that the spirit of Christmas (joy, gratitude, compassion), stemming from a Christian system of beliefs, connects non-religious participants with something bigger than ourselves. Gifts are not required to experience the spirit of the holidays, but they can certainly be an emotional representation.
Before Christmas in July was adopted by retail, as I learned via this piece, the term "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)".
I smiled when I read "he goes on a jolly spree of generosity" because of course he did! Generosity is the quality of being kind and generous, and this can be shown and acted upon in so many ways year-round. Yet every December, between bright sparkly lights, decked halls with visions of beauty and sentiments of spreading good cheer to friends, family, and neighbors, it can feel almost effortless to welcome abundant energy into our lives. We give more openly, joyfully, and intentionally.
Perhaps the Christmas season could be a compass for how we can/are meant to experience our daily lives in goodness, joy, community, and fun. This can go in many directions, from literal playful ones like below to internal choices for our everyday thoughts and actions.
Christmas in July turned out to be so much more than a retail promotion or TV channel I must subscribe to and indulge in for the month. It's a new mid-year check-in to be reminded of the spirit of who we are to ourselves and each other.