Christmas in July

Which came first: the phrase “Christmas in July”, meaning sudden good fortune at an unexpected time, or Christmas in July parties?

I already have read the Wikipedia article, thanks. Did the phrase “Christmas in July” exist before 1933?

Yes. Can I just say how amazing the internet is? I typed “Christmas in July” into Google Books with the date filter set to “before 1934.” There were a few hits, mostly from the early 20th century. The earliest seemed to be a reference to a song from 1889, in an American context, but I could only see a snippet and it might have been a modern preface. The earliest prose citation was from 1896 in The Cambrian magazine, again in an American context.

Werther, an 1892 opera with libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet, and Georges Hartmann, had an English translation published in 1894 by Elizabeth Beale Ginty which contains the phrase “When you sing Christmas in July, you rush the season.” This has the air of a proverb to me. It is a translation of the French, “vouz chantez Noël en juillet… c’est s’y prendre à l’avance.” This opera is based on Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Christmas features in the book, but July does not. (Someone who has actually read it might correct me here.)

So: it sounds proverbial. I have a citation from the U.S. posibbly in 1889, certainly in 1896, and France in 1892. My guess is that it was a widely-known (if not well-known) Victorian expression. We know Queen Victoria herself had a tremendous influence on popular culture, spreading the custom of Christmas trees to the English-speaking world. Alternatively, it might have been a pop-culture phrase made popular by the opera. I don’t know enough about 1890s opera to tell you whether this is likely or ridiculous. None of my proverb sources mention it at all, though they contain other Christmas proverbs.

Thank you for all that information. For some reason, your Google Books search works better than mine.