Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Stamps: A Brief History

First USPS Christmas stamp issued. 

While most of us may not have the opportunity to own paintings created
by the great masters, there are little bits of art around us every day. Postage
stamps come to mind as amazing everyday samples of miniature works of art,
especially Christmas stamps.

There’s some debate as to who issued the first Christmas stamps. In 1898,
Canada issued a stamp picturing a world map with the inscription “Xmas 1898” on it. In 1937, Austria printed up red and green postage stamps, which bore the image of a rose and Zodiac signs. Hungary had the first commemorative stamps with the Nativity available in 1943.

Australia was the first country to begin printing an annual Christmas stamp. This began in 1957 with a stamp depicting a little girl kneeling in prayer and the Christmas star up in the sky above. 

Postal customers in the United States had been requesting a special stamp for Christmas for some time. In 1962, the United States Post Office created its first annual Christmas stamp. Imprinted with a wreath and two candles in red and green, the colors most associated with the holiday, the stamp was available for four cents. 
Classical art/cultural theme.
Painting by Hans Memling. 

Over a billion were sold that year, with the first print run of 350 million, which sold out quickly. After that, there was no doubt of the popularity of stamps created specifically for the Christmas season.

The next year, the Christmas stamp was designed by renowned Washington,
D.C. painter, Lily Spandorf. It symbolized the idea of the nation’s first family being at home, with a Christmas tree in the foreground, at night, with the White House lit up in the background. Sadly, three weeks after it had been first issued on November 1, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. 

Contemporary-themed stamp from 1970 with 'toy' theme.

Some contention rose over whether a stamp issued for the Christmas holiday violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting the government’s establishment of a religion. The postmaster general maintained it did not. Despite attempted legal action, the production of such seasonal stamps hasn’t been thwarted.

While some have been concerned that America shouldn’t have a religious-looking Christmas stamp, other organizations complained that the stamps weren’t religious enough. They were concerned that the attempt to commemorate Christmas with the postage stamps in the scope of tradition, minimized the true meaning of the holiday. 

Over the years, the U.S. Postal Service has attempted to address these concerns in a couple of ways. They began in 1966 by using the a painting of the Madonna nd Child by Flemish artist, Hans Memling from the 1400s. By using classic art, they appealed to those viewed this as a “celebration of culture.” This worked so well, they reprinted the stamp for 1967 and have often used such classical works of art to depict the Holy Family. 

Currier and Ives from 1970s.

Beginning in 1970, the USPS began issuing both a “contemporary” or secular and “traditional” or Christian stamp. The contemporary stamps have often shown an image of Santa Claus or other symbols of the season, while the traditional stamps are often of the Holy Family, which the USPS says reminds us of “family, togetherness, the joys of the season, and the birth of Jesus.” And isn’t that what Christmas is truly about? 

2016 contemporary 'Christmas Windows' theme.

For a mere 50 cents, you can possess a miniature work of art that will make you stop and smile during this hectic time of year and looks quite nice on a Christmas card envelope. These days there are more than two stamps to choose from. Whichever Christmas stamp you prefer—Merry Christmas to you and yours! 

2016 traditional stamp. 


  1. I do enjoy the Christmas stamps. I also like to get non-traditional stamps all year. If I have to pay bills, why not have some fun? Yes, I still send checks!!!! Thanks for the post, and Merry Christmas!

  2. The most interesting thing about this post was seeing the prices on the stamps. I remember those days and using the Christmas stamp the first year it was issued. I usually buy some of both types of stamps and use them all season for other things besides Christmas cards. Then I keep using them until they're gone.

  3. I enjoy seeing various types of stamps. Also, enjoy receiving and sending mail and choosing just the right stamp for the envelope. :-) Amazing how much the price of stamps has escalated, but I still buy them. :-)