By DEBORAH ARTHURS
Jolly holidays! Father Christmas and helpers toast the opening of Harrods' Christmas grotto - a staggering 151 days before the big day
While most of Britain pulled on summer shirts and sandals on this sunny July morning, somewhere in an exclusive London postcode a twinkly-eyed, white-bearded man buttoned up his red felt suit and drank a warming cup of eggnog with his elves in a winter wonderland.
We complain that Christmas seems to come earlier every year - but Harrods opening a grotto in time for the summer holidays surely takes the biscuit.
The upmarket Knightsbridge department store began its festive countdown in earnest this morning, as it unveiled its lavish Christmas department a staggering 151 days before 25 December.
Winter wonderland: Snowy Christmas trees and ornate decorations formed elaborate displays in the Harrods Christmas grotto
The 8,000 sq ft room on the second floor boasts elaborate displays of Christmas trees bedecked with gold and silver ribbons and baubles spelling out the name of the store in glitter - and enough tinsel to wrap over 20 football pitches.
The shelves groaned under the weight of gifts, ranging from a simple £1.95 tree decoration and going up to a life-sized Father Christmas decoration selling for a blow-the-budget sum of £2,999.
Christmas music filled the air as the Santa and his helpers prepared to welcome summer tourists, shorts and all, into the Christmas-themed room.
Father Christmas entered into the spirit of things, tucking into festive ice cream flavoured with eggnog, mince pie and - fetch the bucket - brussels sprouts, part of a selection of Christmas-themed food products that will be on offer between now and the big day.
Summer Santa: Father Christmas tucks into festive-flavoured ice cream - flavoured with brussels sprouts, egg nog and mince pies
It is the earliest the store has ever opened its Christmas department. Last year's festive room opened on 4 August.
Of the early opening, Harrods say they are responding to the 'increasing consumer demand of international markets,' who enjoy the festive room despite visiting the store earlier in the year.
The opening comes ahead of Harrods' larger traditional Christmas Grotto, which will open on 5 November as normal.
Earlier in the day, Harrods had released a video advertising campaign poking fun at the early arrival of Santa.
Father Christmas flies in unannounced and breaks into the store, evading security to steal a pair of ice skates and skate around the roof of Harrods on an impressive ice rink installed for the stunt.
Time to celebrate: Christmas baubles piled high in the grotto spelled out Harrods 2011 in glitter
Feeling generous? The most expensive item on offer is a life-size Santa Claus decoration, priced at £2,999, while the least costly is a decoration priced at £1.95
MEANWHILE, OVER AT SELFRIDGES...
It wasn't only at Harrods that tourists could enter into the Christmas spirit. At Selfridges on London's Oxford Street, a team of elves were putting the finishing touches to their own festive display. Perhaps less extravagant than the offering at its Knightsbridge rival, Selfridges nonetheless revealed shelves piled high with glittering baubles, tinsel and gifts.
Christmas in JULY? The festive countdown begins 151 days early as Harrods opens grotto complete with Santa, elves and snow