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No Christmas, No Thanksgiving?

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the U.S. is not issuing a Christmas stamp this year.

The U.S. Postal Service - which is only 29 years old itself - announced in early April it is skipping the 38-year tradition in 2000, in order to "continue prudently managing inventories."

In other words, it hasn't sold all the ones it printed last year.

"It makes perfect sense to me," said Ken Martin of the American Philatelic Society in State College, Penn., the nation's largest stamp collecting organization. "Some years, local post offices couldn't even get the new Christmas stamps, only the old ones."

The U.S. issued its first Christmas stamp in 1962. The first stamps showed Christmas wreaths and trees, but then the designs became more religious symbols, largely as a result of lobbying by a Waterbury, Conn., railroad worker. [See our story in the Message Board from December 1998.]

After protests about the separation of Church and State in the late 1960s, the Post Office Department began issuing both "traditional" [religious] and "contemporary" [non-religious] Christmas stamps. The religious stamp, in almost every year since the Post Office Department was reorganized as the government-owned corporation U.S. Postal Service, has portrayed a painting of the Madonna and Child.

It wasn't until recently that any other religions' winter holidays were commemorated, with Kwanzaa and Hanukkah stamps...but there was always a religious stamp.

"Rather than printing new holiday designs for 2000, we believe it is a good business decision to exhaust our current inventories of 1999 holiday stamps and supplement them with a small reprint of one design," said James Tolbert, Executive Director, Stamp Services, in a statement.

Martin isn't surprised at the postponement.

"They also have the Kwanzaa, the Hanukkah, and some of those they just reprinted in the (33-cent) denominations" last year, he told The Virtual Stamp Club, of which he is a member.

"With the possibility of a rate change in 2001," added Tolbert, "waiting a bit longer to issue the Thanksgiving stamp should give our customers the convenience of using the design for multiple holiday seasons."

The USPS had planned a Thanksgiving stamp this year, as part of the Holiday Celebrations series that had included Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Cinco de Mayo.

The postponed religious Christmas stamp design depicted Jan Gossaert's painting Madonna and Child; and the Holiday Contemporary stamps were four images of Santa.

The holiday stamps available at post offices this year will be the 1999 issues, featuring Bartolomeo Vivarini's Madonna and Child; a block of four stylized antique-gold deer set against one of four different deeply colored backgrounds (red, green, purple or blue); as well as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. An additional run of the deer stamps will be printed.

Stamp collectors have complained in recent years that the Postal Service was issuing too many unnecessary stamps, trying to balance its budget by taxing hobbyists. Tolbert's predecessor pledged a reduction in the number of stamps issued each year.

But don't count the Gossaert Madonna and Santas stamps out yet: Although not directly involved in the stamp issuance procedure, Congress carries quite a bit of influence with the Postal Service...and may disagree with the decision not to issue new Christmas stamps in 2000.

What do you think? Join our discussion in the Message Board or "yule" be sorry!

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