It might be the middle of summer, but parents and teachers at Old Mission Montessori School in Oceanside, Calif., are as busy as elves and getting into the Christmas spirit. Holiday décor and gifts galore cover the campus, and Santa’s on just about every street corner in town (albeit in his surfing shorts). Welcome to Christmas in July, a two-day festival orchestrated by the school’s parent-teacher group.

The event began 31 years ago as a fair offering homemade jams and jellies, but over the years it’s morphed into a different sort of jam fest, one with well over 20,000 attendees. “Now, we have 175 artisans; a kids’ zone with games, face-painting, and bouncies; food and beverages; rummage sales and auctions; and live entertainment,” explains Melissa Gillespie, who cochairs publicity efforts for the event. “It’s a festival that appeals to the shopper, children, or those who simply love events with a community feel.”

Gillespie begins advertising for artisans and updating event calendars and online media in January. “It’s an amazing undertaking,” she says. “Thankfully, we have been running this event for years and since the school is preschool through 8th grade, many of the parents have been around for anywhere from one to 10 years.” Current cochairs Laura Visco and Amy Fatseas have more than 12 years’ experience between them. Leaders have compiled binders with a checklist covering everything from permits to portable toilets, diagrams of booth layouts, sample print ads, and contact lists for media, artisans, and suppliers.

That level of organization, coupled with 100 percent involvement by school families, makes for a joyful Christmas in July each year. Each family must provide baked goods, sell raffle tickets, and contribute 16 hours of volunteer time. Parents log those hours by helping on any of 30 committees, among them artisan selection, food and beverage donations, the brewery tent, live and silent auctions, security, parking, and—someone’s gotta do it—trash and cleanup. “Believe it or not, garbage and sanitation is pretty popular,” Gillespie says.

During the festival, throngs of guests—including busloads of seniors from residential communities nearby—linger to eat, shop for handmade items, and watch live performances. (Attendance is free, but there is a $2 parking fee.) PTG leaders also offer a farmers market with fresh flowers and locally grown produce.

On Sunday evening, while volunteers take down booths and committee chairs size up the event’s success, their thoughts turn from Christmas to summer vacation. “Since our school year doesn’t start until after Labor Day weekend,” Gillespie says, “there are still several weeks of R and R ahead for the families once another successful year of fun and fundraising has been executed.”

The Group
Old Mission Montessori School PTG, Oceanside, Calif.

School size: 250 students, grades K-8
Annual budget: $90,000
Fundraisers: Christmas in July, St. Francis Day raffles and activities, spaghetti dinner and book sale, seasonal Christmas tree and wreath sales
Philosophy: Old Mission Montessori School and its PTG are committed to community within and beyond our school’s walls.

Christmas in July
A two-day artisan festival with live and silent auctions, entertainment, and a rummage sale.

Jingle all the way: The 2008 event netted more than $78,000, almost a third of that from food sales. “We don’t allow any outside food vendors,” explains Melissa Gillespie. Last year, a team of parents and a teacher hand-rolled 5,000 Filipino spring rolls for one of the food booths.

Christmas presence: Weeks before the festival, special “Santa” displays are positioned throughout town; parents and students also place signs on their parade float at the town’s July 4 celebration.

Mix and a-mingle: On Saturday night, the PTG holds a dinner for Old Mission Montessori families, charging just enough to cover costs. The group also uses the occasion to thank families for helping out.