It was Christmas with a difference: The "snow" on the ground was sun-baked gravel; the traditional turkey feast had been replaced by sandwiches; and the children at the family homeless shelter were almost too street-smart to believe in magic.

But when Santa Claus stepped out of his horse-drawn carriage (the reindeer get July off) in downtown Salt Lake City Friday, those world-weary eyes lit up like the brightly decorated Christmas tree inside the shelter and the children rushed to help him unload his gifts.The Salt Lake Board of Realtors put together "Christmas in July" to bring joy to the nearly 50 children staying at the shelter, said Dan Lawler, president of the group.

"We were starting to plan our New Year's Day dinner for the homeless, and we thought it was a shame that such events only happen during the holidays," he said. "Help is really needed year-round. Being in the home business, we know that the American dream of owning a home is far off for these people. But Christmas is for everyone."

"I know the truth about Santa," a 7-year-old boy said, as families gathered on the sofas of the shelter to eat the lunch provided by Ruby's Catering. "I know. I'm not conned."

But when Santa appeared, smiling and - yes, twinkling - the boy joined the other children clutching the red velvet suit and clamoring for attention. He was smiling when he climbed on Santa's lap to hear his name read from "Santa's Book of Good Kids" (which also listed favorite things and a suggestion or two for being even better next year). When he climbed down with his colorfully wrapped present, he made a beeline to this reporter to set the record straight.

"Sorry I told you that," he said. "There's a Santa all right, and I just saw him!"

"This is kind of strange," said Betty, a mother at the shelter. "It's not God's birthday. We don't usually have the `lighter' Christmas stuff - so without God, it's odd."

Children younger than 6 years each got a stuffed animal, while older boys received footballs and girls got dolls. Then all the children adjourned outside for a spin with the jolly old elf in his summer vehicle - a horse-drawn carriage, bedecked with bows and holly.

The Board of Realtors has 2,500 members in the Salt Lake City area, and sponsors several fund-raisers for the homeless shelter during the year, including an annual shrimp fest and auction.