5¢ National Christmas Tree
Issue Date: November 1, 1963
City: Santa Claus, IN
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Giori Press
Color: Dark blue, bluish black and red
U.S. #1240 is the second stamp issued specifically for use during the Christmas season. It pictures the National Christmas Tree with the White House in the background.
The National Christmas Tree
Benjamin Harrison was reportedly the first US president to decorate the White House with a Christmas tree. He set one up inside for his family and White House visitors to enjoy in 1889.
In late November 1923, Lucretia Hardy of the DC Community center Department wrote a letter to the president asking that he support her idea to place a Christmas tree on the White House grounds. She said, “It seems that the use of the White House grounds for this Christmas tree will give the sentiment and the exercises a national character.”
To help entice the president, Hardy arranged for the donation of a tree. The tree was a gift from the president of Middlebury College in Vermont, Coolidge’s home state. The college’s president also contacted Vermont Senator Frank L. Greene to help encourage the president.
Another party interested in the national Christmas tree was the Society for Electrical Development. They were looking for a way to encourage Americans to use electric lights and more electricity. Vice President Frederick Feiker, who was also a press aide to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, suggested a national Christmas tree would set the example.
On December 8, President Coolidge accepted the proposal and the plans moved forward. The 48-foot tree was a balsam fir decorated with 2,500 red, white, and green bulbs. At 5:00 pm on Christmas Eve, president Coolidge pressed a button lighting the first National Christmas Tree. That event was followed by a choir of city school children singing carols and the US Marine Band playing.
The tree remained in place for one year, but for the 1924 lighting, they used a live tree at the urging of the American Forestry Association. That year they also began referring to it as the National Community Christmas Tree.
In 1929, First Lady Lou Hoover started the annual tradition of decorating an indoor tree at the White House. Beginning in 1932, loudspeakers were installed in the tree to play Christmas carols, earning it the nickname “The Singing Tree.” The lighting of the tree by the President has become an annual televised event followed by a month of holiday festivities known as the Pageant of Peace. Groups of nearby trees and other decorations leading to the National Christmas Tree are known as the Pathway to Peace. And since 1981, the White House has produced an official ornament and offered replicas for purchase.
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).
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