50 Years of Holiday Stamps: Overview and List

The U.S. Post Office Department issued its first Christ­mas stamp in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 1, 1962. Customers had requested such a stamp for years. During the stamp dedication ceremony, Postmaster Gen­eral J. Edward Day said that the stamp would be the first in a series of Christmas stamps.

Anticipating a huge demand for the new Christmas stamp, the department had 350 million printed — the larg­est number produced for a special stamp until that time. The red and green 4-cent stamps featured a wreath, two candles, and the words “Christmas 1962.” The initial sup­ply sold out quickly and the Bureau of Engraving and Print­ing began working around-the-clock to print more. By the end of 1962, 1 billion stamps had been printed and distrib­uted.

The decision to print a Christmas stamp generated some controversy, especially from groups concerned about maintaining the separation of church and state. Legal actions to bar the stamps were not successful.

Each year, the Postal Service receives thousands of suggestions for new postage stamps. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee was established in 1957 to review the suggestions and recommend new stamp designs to the postmaster general. In choosing new stamp subjects, the committee established specific criteria, such as national appeal and historical perspective. The ultimate goal is to create an annual stamp program that reflects America — from the events and people that bind the nation together to the diversity of cultures that forms its foundation.

The Postal Service is proud of a stamp program that cel­ebrates the rich diversity of American culture, and recog­nizes that some individuals may disagree with its selections on occasion. However, a wide variety of stamps are avail­able so that postal customers always have options.

Each year, the Postal Service issues a Holiday Contem­porary and Holiday Traditional postage stamp. This year, the Holiday Contemporary is the Santa and Sleigh Forever stamp, which features a “classic” image of Santa and his reindeer circling around snow-covered rooftops, and the Holiday Traditional Stamp is the Holy Family Forever stamp. The Holy Family stamp celebrates Christmas with a scene from the Nativity story that reminds us of the joys of the season: family, togetherness, and the birth of Jesus.

In 1996, the Postal Service paid tribute to Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, by issuing the first Hanukkah stamp, which featured a stylized illustration of a menorah. A design featuring an ornate dreidel followed in 2004. This season, the Postal Service will continue selling the 2009 Hanukkah stamp, the third U.S. stamp to commemorate the holiday.

In 1997, the Postal Service paid tribute to Kwanzaa, the celebration of family, community, and culture, by issuing the first Kwanzaa stamp, which featured a colorful portrait of an African-American family, a “symbol of family and togetherness.” A design featuring seven figures in colorful robes followed in 2004. This season, the Postal Service will continue selling the 2009 Kwanzaa stamp, the third U.S. stamp to commemorate the holiday.

In 2001, the Postal Service paid tribute to Eid, by issuing the Eid stamp, which features the phrase “Eid Mubarak” — meaning “blessed festival” — in gold Arabic script on a blue background. The stamp commemorates the two most important festivals on the Islamic calendar: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The stamp has been reissued in the original design to reflect current stamp prices.

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Christmas stamps being issued by the Postal Service, making this year a perfect time to celebrate the Santa and Sleigh stamp with a local stamp ceremony or event. Here is an easy way to promote the stamp.

Santa in School Invite a local elementary school teacher to have the class write to Santa using the Letters to Santa children’s book or writing kits offered at Post Offices and at www.usps.com/shop as a guide. This adorable book offers everything kids will need to write a letter to St. Nick and teaches them how their mail travels to the North Pole. Once the children finish writing to Santa, make a special visit to pick up the letters and deliver a little history about holiday U.S. postage stamps. Share the following list of holiday stamps with the children to start the conversation. Show photos of some of the stamps — one from each decade should do it. The stamp images can easily be printed right from the any of the sites referenced below.

In the list of U.S. Christmas holiday stamps that follows, the numbers in parentheses indicate postage on non-denominated stamps. Information is taken from the Postal Service Guide to U.S. Stamps, postal philatelic press releases, the National Gallery of Art website at www.nga.gov, Scott 1999 Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps, and Scott Stamp Monthly.

The Holiday stamp images can be viewed at these links http://beyondtheperf.com/content/holiday-celebration-holiday-series and http://beyondtheperf.com/content/holiday-celebration-christmas-series