Not many nations — even those with a strong Christian base — put an image of the Nativity on their stamps much before the 1970s. As we saw in our Christmas Firsts blog, Hungary first put Nativity imagery on a stamp in 1943. (For argument’s sake, we’re calling the Nativity as depicting the Holy Family — Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus in a manger-like setting.)
The United States has rarely put an image of a manger scene or Holy Family on a stamp, instead for a religious motif at Christmas opting for master artworks of the Madonna and Child, along with the occasional angel. The first full Madonna and Child stamp was in 1966, followed quickly by a second in 1967. Two more were issued in 1973 and 1975, and in 1978, the Postal Service started a run of 22 consecutive years showing a Madonna and Child master artwork. No Christmas stamps were issued in 2000, and although it’s been more sporadic, the Madonna and Child imagery has appeared on 10 more stamps.
In 1970, the religious U.S. stamp showed a manger scene, presenting Nativity (1523), by Lorenzo Lotto, and in 1971, the stamp showed a detail from Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1505) by Giorgione, followed in 1976 by Nativity (c. 1777), by John Singleton Copley. Not until this year, did another manger/Nativity scene show up on a U.S. Christmas stamp. Interestingly, this year also saw a new Madonna and Child stamp.
It’s interesting to see how other nations present the Madonna and Child, some in traditional forms, sometimes in modernized images, and some depicting the Holy Family in that country’s traditional stylings.
Great Britain’s Royal Mail in 2015 offered a minimalist setting for the manger.
Peru issued two Christmas stamps showing the manger in 1977.
This stamp from Kenya in 1986 is one in a set of four.
This stamp from Ireland in 1991 is one of a set of three.
This Canadian 1977 Christmas stamp showing First Nation figures is part of a set of three.
One of the best-loved Christmas songs of all time originated in 1818 in Austria.
Joseph Mohr, then assistant pastor at the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, had written a poem called “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”) several years earlier, and he asked the St. Nicholas choir director and organist, Franz Gruber, to compose music for the words, for two solo voices accompanied by a guitar and choir.
Legend has it that the music was composed in a short time because the church organ was not working and Christmas Eve was at hand. A more recent look at the history suggest that the song was unlikely composed in an afternoon or two, as the oft-repeated story says. No matter where the truth lies, “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) was sung for the first time for midnight mass on December 24, 1818 with Mohr, Gruber, and the choir.
The church was damaged several times, particularly by flooding and was torn down in 1913. A replica — the Silent Night Chapel with seating for no more than 20 — was built in its place and opened in 1937. A pink building next to the chapel is the vicarage in which Joseph Mohr lived while serving in Oberndorf between 1817 and 1819.
Christmas seals are not postage stamps. They are what is known in the hobby as cinderellas — items that look like postage stamps, but aren’t valid for postage. Christmas seals have a familiar look and interesting history, so they are used and collected much like Christmas stamps. In fact, the Christmas Seal & Charity Stamp Society (www.seal-society.org) is an affiliate of the American Philatelic Society.
Christmas seals are often placed on mail during the Christmas season. The sale of the stamps is raises money and awareness for various charitable programs. Initially they were associated with lung diseases such as tuberculosis, but now have grown internationally to include various aspects of child welfare.
In 1904, Danish postal clerk Einar Holbøll developed the idea of adding an extra charitable stamp or label on holiday Christmas mail. Holbøll’s idea eventually was approved by the Danish postmaster and the king of Denmark, and in 1904 the world’s first Christmas seal was issued, bearing the likeness of the Danish queen and the word “Julen,” the Danish word for Christmas. More than 4 million seals were sold in Denmark in the first year alone.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are major events in today’s Russia and was the same in the former Soviet Union when religion was essentially banned under Communist rule. Christmas holiday traditions were transferred to new year celebrations.
The Soviet Union started producing annual new year stamps in the early 1960s. The first such stamp included a label with “Happy New Year” inscribed in colorful, flowing script. It was a very soft and warm design compared to many of the heavy, industrial-style designs of the typical stamp from the Soviet Union.
Several new year stamps thereafter included images of snowflakes, the Kremlin’s famous Spasskaya (also Spasski) Tower and rockets — yes, let’s of rockets! It’s not unusual to find spaceflight imagery on Soviet New Year issues, some stamps and many cards. James G. Reichman wrote a whole book on it called Soviet New Year’s Issues Related to Spaceflight (2013) and noted 468 items depicting spaceflight on Soviet postal items, many of them special postal cards.
As the political climate changed in the 1990s, Russia started including more Christmas images on its new year’s stamps, including Grandfather Frost (looking a LOT like Santa Claus) and his sleigh, decorated Christmas trees and brightly wrapped presents.
The Marshall Islands will issue a sheet of 10 stamps featuring tropical flowers at the AmeriStamp Expo stamp show in Reno, Nevada.
The first-day ceremony is scheduled for March 3, the first day of the show, at a time to be announced at the Reno Sparks Convention Center.
The stamps depicted are (top row, from left): plumeria, hibiscus, primrose willow, annona muricata, and globe amaranth; (bottom row, from left) arrowleaf elephants ear, field pumpkin, Asiatic pennywort, fire on the mountain, and Polynesian arrowroot.
The show will feature approximately 50 dealers, a dozen societies, 40 meetings and seminars, and exhibits, including the annual World Series of Philately single-frame competition.