Tradition

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One of my favorite events at summer camp was Christmas in August. It was our favorite holiday and a tradition loved by everyone. “Christmas” was sweet and sentimental, the one time of year that many of us who were Jewish got to celebrate a holiday loved by so many in the winter time.

For an entire week at the end of every summer, the counselors would band together to decorate for the big event. We would collect truckloads of Pine tree branches and staple them to the walls inside the old barn.  We would cover the floor with wood chips, put out bales of hay, hang Christmas lights and prepare for the annual Counselor Show.  We would spend hours writing Christmas cards for each other, many of which I still have to this day.

I will never forget my first Christmas as a kid, when I walked into that incredible room. That smell. Pine trees everywhere. It was like walking into a forest; it was magical.  Seated on hay bales, everyone watched the show and sang Christmas Carols. Then Santa made his grand entrance and called each camper to the stage, so they could sit on his lap, give him a hug, and receive their gift. The evening would end with the whole camp eating “milk lunch” (our camp word for ice cream) and singing Silent Night (in multiple languages depending on the International staff present).

Our beautiful summer camp closed after the summer of 1993, but our hearts remained open; we knew we were connected forever as Camp Family.  My love for camp continued to burn inside of me.  Years later, my sister and I bought a piece of our camp.  We were the proud owners of a two-acre parcel of land which was right in the middle of what used to be Boy’s camp.  Months later we built a house on that spot.  Our front door faces the old volleyball, basketball and hockey courts.  It’s just a two-minute walk down to the lake.

As soon as my house was completed, I knew exactly what I had to do.  I sent an email to fifty of my closest camp friends and invited them to the 1st Annual Christmas in August Party the following summer.  The instructions were simple.  Play at the lake all day, Christmas at night.  Please prepare a family “lip sync” to perform in the Christmas show and make sure you bring a gift for Santa to give to your child.

On “Christmas Eve,” my crew of former camp counselors climb ladders so they can cover all of the trees in colored Christmas lights. Santa’s “elves” wrap last minute gifts. The bales of hay arrive Christmas morning and there are last minute lip sync rehearsal all around.

I am the Master of Ceremonies and I always open the show by asking everyone to sing our traditional “Camp Welcome Song" for any newcomers that might be with us. After that, each family performs their lip-sync to thunderous applause from the audience. In between skits I ask, “Does anyone have a joke?” and a dozen little hands shoot in the air with urgency. We hear tons of jokes both good and bad throughout the evening, and the audience just laughs and laughs. It’s the best self-esteem builder that you will ever find.

After the last skit, we bust out our song sheets and the Christmas carols begin. Cue Santa. You can always hear him “jingle jingle” before you actually see him. He may roll up in the back of a tractor, a dump truck, a jeep, a red convertible, or whatever we can find.

Santa calls each child to the stage and gives out gifts. One by one, they sit on his lap and give him a hug. A few joyous adults receive gifts from Santa as well. Everyone is beaming. Once the yard is littered with wrapping paper, we put our arms around each other and sing Silent Night and both verses of our beloved “camp song”, followed by some healthy servings of Milk Lunch. Finally, I say, "Merry Christmas everyone" and we light the campfire.

This summer will be our 17th Annual Christmas in August celebration. My family has already started talking about what song we should do for lip sync with my two-year-old son, Max.  People ask why is it so important to me to put on a show for Christmas?  The answer is so simple for me. When I watch these families perform their skits together, I am guaranteed one thing: I know, with certainty, that one night when they were at home, they had to work together to agree on a song, rehearse it, find costumes & props, and then perform it in front of an audience. They are making a memory together, and I think that’s pretty cool.  That’s what camp is all about.

Mary-jane