The first Christmas in August was a project of the Sunbeam Band of the First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia. The year was 1927.
Elizabeth Ellyson Wiley (Mrs. J. Hundley) was speaking in that church on her first furlough (now called stateside assignment). She and her husband served at the University of Shanghai in China. She spoke of her desire to witness to the illiterate women who worked as servants in the university community. She mentioned their children and her desire for these children to know the joy of Christmas. Mrs. Guy Via, who led the Sunbeam Band, asked if the children couldn’t send gifts. There were 100 gifts that first year, and a tree was set up in the university chapel. Christmas entertainment was given for the servants and their children.
Since there were 400 mothers and children to be provided for, Mrs. Wiley wrote other friends in Virginia, telling them of the project. Eventually, the project was adopted for Sunbeams by Virginia WMU, and gifts were sent to the Richmond office and then shipped from there. As there were more gifts, other projects were set up: Christmas trees for the children of faculty members, a Christmas tree at Yangtee Poo Social Center maintained by Dr. Wiley’s classes.
In 1937 the box of gifts was lost in shipping; it was traced as far as the Philippines, but never reached Shanghai. It seemed unwise to ship any more items to China because of the war, so Virginia Sunbeams sent their gifts to home missionaries (now called North American missionaries).
Home and Foreign Fields of November 1936 had suggested sending Christmas boxes to home missionaries rather than to those overseas and suggested some needs.
In August 1949 World Comrades (WMU, SBC, magazine for children—Sunbeams, GAs, and RAs) had a feature story about the Sunbeams of a particular Virginia church entitled "A Christmas Tree in August."
That same month’s issue of The Window of YWA (WMU, SBC, magazine for young women) promoted sending packages overseas in August or September. These were not Christmas gifts, however, but warm clothing for the winter.
In August 1950 both the above-mentioned magazines promoted sending gifts to Japan and called the project Christmas in August. In August 1952 Royal Service (WMU, SBC, magazine for adult women) asked women to help the young people have Christmas in August. From 1953 to 1973 Royal Service promoted the idea of adult organizations having Christmas in August.
After 1950 the suggested recipients were usually home missionaries.
The North American Mission Board now chooses the missionaries, and the missionaries list the items they wish to receive. Information and lists of the missionaries are carried in WMU magazines.
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