Christmas in July

Season’s greetings! And I’m not talking about summertime.

It seems that “Christmas in July” celebrations are a “thing” at places like playground programs and summer camps and even on the Hallmark Channel, which is showing Christmas movies throughout the month of July. Apparently, folks appreciate some of the trappings of Christmas better without all the hectic hustle and bustle that goes along with celebrating it in December.

Dennis and I recently got a jump on Christmas in July by celebrating “Christmas in June” at the Bowman farm. In reality, our festivities were actually belated by six months. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ages and health conditions of some of those who normally attend Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners around our dining room table, these holiday gatherings were canceled in 2020. Dennis and I “celebrated” alone with some traditional foods, sitting at our kitchen’s island last Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, to give all of us something to look forward to, I promised we would gather together for a “make-up holiday dinner” when it was safe to do so.

The afternoon of the last Sunday in June became the date designated for our delayed holiday feast and reunion. I had it all planned out in my mind. We’d have some of our favorite holiday dishes, but we’d eat them outside on the patio sitting at picnic tables and enjoy watching the cattle in the pasture and the amber waves of grain surrounding our farmhouse this year.

It was a grand plan, but ... the weatherman had other ideas. It wasn’t rain that ruined my scheme, it was the scorching sunshine. With temperatures in the 90s — and some of our guests with their number of birthdays also in the 90s — we knew we had to move our Christmas in June indoors to the air-conditioned dining room.

That turned out to be easier said than done, since the dining room table has served as Dennis’ “work from home” desk since March 2020. He needs a spacious work area on which he can spread out the large technical drawings he works with in his job as an electrical engineer, and our dining table was the only space that filled the bill. Thus, I gave Dennis the bad news that he had to dismantle his home office for a day or two, and relocate his paperwork and computer temporarily onto a bed in one of our spare rooms.

Seasonal Dining

Given the weather forecast and the lack of central air conditioning, we also decided it would be wise to vary our traditional Christmas dinner menu a bit to include some cold dishes that didn’t require us to heat up the kitchen as much as our usual extensive use of the oven and range top.

The menu evolved from strictly traditional to tasty practicality. Dennis made a turkey outside on his pellet grill, we baked two ham loaves in the oven, I made some green bean casserole, we cooked some frozen corn and my stepson brought some of his delicious potato filling.

Meanwhile, I concentrated on make-ahead cold dishes. Instead of sweet potatoes, I made sweet and sour carrots (a.k.a. copper pennies). For an additional starch, I made some Asian slaw that uses ramen noodles. I also whipped up a batch of shrimp spread as an appetizer. I would’ve loved to make my mother’s cranberry sauce recipe, but had neglected to freeze any fresh cranberries last December. Instead, I made another version that uses canned, whole-berry cranberry sauce, raspberry gelatin, crushed pineapple, a Granny Smith apple and chopped walnuts; it was very refreshing.

Dennis and I teamed up on desserts. He baked his popular pumpkin custard using pumpkin he’d cooked down and frozen last fall. I visited our garden and created a rhubarb-black raspberry custard, while Eric’s girlfriend introduced us to red velvet cookies with white chocolate chips.

To add to the atmosphere, I set out a few Christmas decorations, including my corn husk Nativity scene, a pair of ceramic Santas, and a snowman-themed door ornament. I even stuck a few artificial poinsettias into a bouquet of sunflowers for added effect. There were also Christmas tablecloths, napkins and plates, holiday hand towels, as well as Christmas music to dine by and my traditional Christmas table grace.

At our November and December holiday meals, the coveted spot at the dining table is often the toasty seat directly in front of the dining room’s Franklin stove. When it’s Christmas in June and over 90 degrees outside, the best spot to be had was the one closest to the air conditioner, as even the display of Christmas décor and music did nothing to invoke a December chill.

I think a good time was had by all, with the greatest pleasure coming from sitting down together to break bread and converse after much too long an absence from each other. And best of all, it’s only five more months until we get to do it all over again when Turkey Day rolls around.

In the meanwhile, we’ll look forward to more fully decking the halls for Christmas 2021 — fa-la-la-la-la.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.

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