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by George H. Johnston IV

The Christmas stamp is an American tradition but it is a recent tradition. The US didn't issue its first Christmas stamp until 1962, when the first stamp showed a Christmas wreath. The second, in 1963, showed a tree, and in 1964 there were four designs. The US Post Office (now the Postal Service) didn't issue the first Madonna stamp until 1966 nor the first official "contemporary" Christmas stamp until 1969.

Because of Christmas's dual nature as both a secular and religious holiday, the USPS has always been leery about these stamps. Officially, the Madonna are replicas of great art, not religious stamps. In 1977, the USPS replaced the Madonna with a picture of George Washington praying. There was an uproar and the Madonna returned in 1978.

In 1994, the USPS announced that 1994's Madonna stamp would be the last. For 1995, there were to be five Christmas stamps, one featuring an angel, two with Santas, and two showing children with their gifts. A few days later, President Clinton reversed the decision and declared that there would be a Madonna stamp in 1995. There was but, apparently in an attempt to compromise, the Postal Service did not to include the word "Christmas" on the stamp.

Since then, the USPS has issued stamps for other winter holidays. The first Hanukkah stamp came out in 1996 and Kwanzaa followed in 1997. The Chinese New Year beat them both with a stamp in 1992 to celebrate the Year of the Rooster which began in 1993.

The first American holiday stamp was not for Christmas: it was the 1934 Mother's Day stamp. The "Love" stamps for Valentine's Day have been an annual issue since 1973.

The American 1962 Christmas stamp was not the world's first Christmas stamp although there is disagreement over which stamp merits that distinction.

One contender for the title of the world's first Christmas stamp was issued by the British Empire for Canada and was supposed to commemorate new postal rates but.... When the postmaster general, the Duke of Norfolk, presented the design, a map of the world, to Queen Victoria for her approval, she asked, "When will it be issued?" The postmaster, normally an intelligent man, answered, "On the prince's birthday." The Duke was trying to please Her Majesty but, when she asked, "Which prince?" in a certain tone of voice, he suddenly remembered that the Queen intensely disliked her son Prince Albert. Thinking quickly, the Duke replied, "The Prince of Peace, of course." As soon as the audience was concluded, he ordered the stamp to be overprinted, "Christmas 1898."

Other collectors of Christmas stamps have more rigorous criteria for true Christmas stamps. The stamp must be a special issue, feature a Christmas theme, and be issued at Christmas. Under those criteria, Kathy Ward of the Christmas Philatelic Club has concluded that the first three Christmas stamps were issued in Hungary in 1943 despite the fact that the Netherlands, Austria, and Brazil earlier issued stamps with Christmas themes.

One thing Ms. Ward did not mention in her article in the August 1985 edition of the "Yule Log" is that, in 1943, Hungary was in the grip of World War II. Holidays often become more important during times of crisis.

Back in the United States, the Postal Service has been inconsistent in issuing first day covers. Sometimes, they release the stamps in cities with no specific connection to Christmas such as Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Omaha, Chicago, and Detroit. Other times, the USPS issues it first day covers from cities and towns with names reflecting Christmas, including Santa Claus, IN, Bethlehem, PA, Silver Bell, AZ, Christmas, MI, Christmas, FL, Christmas Valley, OR, Snow, OK, and Nazareth, MI.

This year's Traditional Holiday stamp is the Florentine Madonna and Child, showing a 15th-century sculpture by an unknown artist in Florence, Italy. The Holiday Contemporary series includes four stamps showing wreaths: the Chili Pepper, the Victorian, the Evergreen and the Tropical Wreaths. The several holiday series will continue for the indefinite future and with good reason: they add even more color and beauty to the millions of cards and letters mailed every holiday season.

My thanks to the Christmas Philatelic Club, Kathy Ward, and Betsy & Chuck Berry, the people who referred me to the Christmas Philatelic Club.

If you are even slightly interested in this topic, I strongly suggest that you check out the Christmas Philatelic Club web site. The site combines music, graphics, and animation with good organization and content. And you can join the organization for a small fee.

Copyright 1998 by George H. Johnston IV


Printed with permission from the author. Forward any corrections or additions to George H. Johnston IV at

Find out How to Become a Member of the Christmas Philatelic Club.

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The Yule Log is edited by Jon Mills of Ottawa, Ontario. Christine Sanders of Englewood, Florida is the club's current president.

The invitation to membership in the Christmas Philatelic Club is open to any Christmas topical philatelist who is seriously interested in associating with those who collect likewise.

Current dues are $20 per year for persons living in North America. Other Countries: $30.00 (US funds). Send an international money order in US dollars.

Applications for membership are available from Secretary/Treasurer Jim Balog, PO Box 744, Geneva, Ohio 44042-0744 USA or complete this Application Form and send it to the secretary's address..


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For a sample issue of the Yule Log, send $3.00 to
P.O. Box 744

Geneva OH

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