Christmas in August: 93 Years and Going Strong

christmas in august

The year was 1927. Home on her first furlough, Elizabeth Ellyson Wiley spoke at First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia.  She and her husband, J. Hundley Wiley, served at the University of Shanghai in China. As she spoke of her desire to share Christ's love with the illiterate women who worked as servants in the university community, Elizabeth also mentioned the servants' children and how she wanted these children to know the joy of Christmas. 



Mrs. Guy Via, who led the Sunbeam Band at FBC Charlottesville, was so moved that she volunteered to lead her children in collecting gifts for the children in China. That first year 100 gifts were collected. A Christmas tree was set up in University of Shanghai's chapel, and the servant women and their children enjoyed Christmas entertainment for the very first time.

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. Gifts were sent to the Richmond office and shipped from there. As there were more gifts, additional projects were set up: Christmas trees for the children of faculty members and a Christmas tree at Yangtee Poo Social Center maintained by Dr. Wiley’s classes.


In 1937 the box of Christmas gifts was lost in shipping. It was traced as far as the Philippines, but never reached Shanghai.

Because of the war Virginia WMU felt it was unwise to ship any more items to China. So, the following year Virginia Sunbeams sent their gifts to home missionaries (now called North American missionaries).

In August 1949 World Comrades (WMU's magazine for children) featured a story entitled "A Christmas Tree in August" about the Sunbeams of a particular Virginia church.

That same month’s issue of The Window of YWA (WMU's magazine for young women) suggested sending packages overseas in August or September. While these were not promoted as Christmas gifts, the young women were encouraged to send warm clothing for the winter.

Both World Comrades and The Window of YWA in August 1950 challenged churches to send gifts to Japan. They named the project "Christmas in August." In the years that followed, North American missionaries were usually the suggested recipients.

Royal Service (WMU's magazine for adult women) began asking women to help the young people collect for Christmas in August in 1952. 

The Tradition Continues

Today WMU and the North American Mission Board continue to partner to select missionaries who are featured in Christmas in August. The selected missionaries provide a list of supplies they need for ministry and outreach to their communities. The needed items are posted online. Your church, small group, or your family can select a missionary, collect the reqeusted items throughout the month of August, and send the items to the missionaries in September.

You can visit to select a Christmas in August missionary and to learn all the details about participating in Christmas in August, including how to pack and mail your gifts. 



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