Today Christmas stamps are sold by many countries during the holiday season and are used to add a little color and cheer to Christmas cards and letters. But how did this tradition start?
In December 1898, Canada issued a 2-cent stamp celebrating the introduction of imperial penny postage and inscribed with the words “XMAS 1898.” This stamp is usually regarded as the world’s first Christmas stamp, but it wasn’t actually released to celebrate the holidays. Instead, as legend goes, Postmaster William Mulock suggested to Queen Victoria that the stamp should be released in November “to honor the Prince” (meaning the Prince of Wales). But when the queen showed obvious displeasure with the idea and asked which prince he was referring to, Mulock quickly answered, “Why, the Prince of Peace, ma’am”. So when the stamp was issued in December, it bore not only the image of a world map, but also the words “XMAS 1898” at the bottom of the stamp.
It wasn’t until nearly 40 years later that another country issued a Christmas stamp. This time the country was Austria. In 1937, it issued two stamps billed as “Christmas Greeting Stamps,” but neither had a Christmas theme. One showed a zodiac sign and the other one depicted a rose. Brazil was next in line, issuing four semi-postal stamps in 1939, and Hungary followed suit with a semi-postal stamp in 1941. Semi-postal stamps are ones that are sold above the stamp’s value to raise money for a specific cause.
So it wasn’t until 1943 that Hungary issued the first Christmas-themed stamp that was sold specifically as a holiday stamp. Now many nations of the world issue postage stamps with a Christmas theme that are intended for use on seasonal mail.
The first Christmas stamp issued by the United States came was a 4-cent stamp issued in 1962. The green and red stamp featured a wreath, two candles, and the words “Christmas 1962”. The postal service anticipated a huge demand for the new stamp and ordered 350 million printed, the largest number ever produced up until that time for a special stamp. But it wasn’t enough. When the initial supply quickly ran out the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began working around the clock to print more. By the end of the season, one billion of the first Christmas stamps were printed and distributed.