First U.S. Christmas Stamp
On November 1, 1962, the US Post Office issued its first-ever Christmas stamp, starting a popular tradition that continues to this day.
There’s some debate as to which country issued the first-ever Christmas stamp. Canada often gets the honor for its 1898 issue that pictured a map and had the inscription “XMAS 1898.” In the coming years, other nations issued stamps with similar holiday inscriptions, and eventually with religious or holiday-themed designs.
By the early 1960s, the US Post Office was receiving 1,000 letters a year (for several years) asking for a Christmas-themed stamp to frank their holiday mail. The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee supported the idea and recommended a Christmas stamp, which was officially announced in May 1962. In his announcement, Postmaster General J. Edward Day stated that there were two subjects he knew were popular with the public – the US flag and Christmas. He went on to say, “This coming Christmas season, there will be a special stamp especially appropriate for use on Christmas cards.”
America’s first Christmas stamp was then issued on November 1, 1962, at a special ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the dedication ceremony, Postmaster General Day said this stamp would be the first in a new series of Christmas stamps. The Post Office expected there would be a great demand for the issue, so they printed 350 million stamps – the largest print run for a special stamp up to that time. Those 350 million stamps sold out quickly, leading the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to produce more stamps – reaching one billion by the end of the year.
The issuing of a stamp honoring a religious holiday drew controversy, as some people felt it was a conflict involving separation of church and state. There were some legal actions taken to block the release of the stamp, but they all failed.
True to the postmaster general’s word, this was the first stamp in an annual series that continues to this day. The series is now known as Contemporary Christmas, with images and topics relating to our modern Christmas celebrations. On November 1, 1966, the Post Office introduced a new series, Traditional Christmas, which features classic artwork with religious images of the Madonna and Child, Angel Gabriel, the Nativity, and more.
In recent decades, the USPS expanded its holiday themed stamps even further. In 1996, they introduced the Hanukkah Series. They followed this up the next year with the Kwanzaa Series. The first Eid stamp was issued in 2001 and a Diwali stamp in 2016.
The Christmas series has seen several interesting “firsts” over the years, including the first self-adhesive stamp (#1552), the first non-denominated stamps (#1579 and 1580), and the first self-adhesive coil stamps with a plate number (2799-2802).