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New Stamps Remind Us Holidays Are Here

Anyone who's experienced 50 or more Christmases may well recall when things were a bit different than today. Back in the 1960s and before, the feeling of the holidays was nothing short of magical in more ways than are now imaginable. Not that it isn't still a very special time, but truth be told, things have changed.

Step back in the "way back" machine for a moment to recall past shopping. In small towns or big cities, stores went out of their way to create enticing holiday displays. Larger department stores would even have "Christmas windows" with motorized displays that captivated businesspeople and shoppers alike. I won't take a position on global warming, but I have to admit there was definitely more snow back then. Today in most parts of the country, it's hard to find more than a few days during winter when a child's sled can effectively hit the slopes. That might bring a sigh of relief for travelers, but it doesn't bode well for those dreaming of a white Christmas.

Holiday decorations appeared on homes near the first of December. The smell of evergreen was everywhere, and the new skimpy artificial trees had Charlie Brown overtones. Happily, the powder white and shiny aluminum spinning trees are all but a memory.

One of the most anticipated harbingers of the holidays were the cards. Their heyday was in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Not that they aren't still popular. But then, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was common for families to find five or 10 cards in their mailbox every day.

That's a tradition that continues today, though due to an uncertain economy or general apathy the numbers sent are smaller. It's also a ritual not lost on the Postal Service. In 1962, they began issuing stamps with a clear holiday theme — ideal when mailing the cards.

For a while, they even subsidized the cards. No kidding. In the late 1950s and early '60s, the Postal Service threw those in the spirit a mailing bone by offering a discount for mailed cards. The regular postage was 40 cents, but holiday cards could be sent for 3 cents — a savings of 25 percent. The only catch was the envelopes couldn't be sealed.

Wholesale discounts on holiday postage are surely a thing of the past, but the tradition and stamps aren't. Every year, the Postal Service issues new offerings that celebrate the season, hoping more people will get in the spirit and send stacks of holiday greetings.

This year is no exception with two different designs on the new 44-cent stamps. The first is a block of four stamps called the "contemporary issuance," which means they don't have a specific religious affiliation, but they do suggest a holiday feeling. The 2010 contemporary stamps feature close-up views of the needles and cones of four different pines, including the ponderosa, Eastern red cedar, blue spruce and balsam fir. The grouping is reminiscent of four similar stamps released in 1964, though the artistic value is substantially higher.

The other is referred to as the "traditional" issue, which always have a religious theme. To avoid any suggestion that a government entity is promoting a particular belief, the images on traditional issues are taken directly from classic paintings. The argument could then be made that they are merely featuring wonderful artistry. The 2010 traditional stamp includes an image of an angel with a lute from a fresco painted around the year 1480 by Melozzo da Forli in Rome.

All of the new 2010 holiday stamps have been recently released and are available at most post offices nationwide. For collectors, special first-day-of-issue cancels are available by mail directly from the Postal Service.

To receive one, purchase one or more of the stamps at a local post office and affix them to a self-addressed envelope. Then send that inside of a separate mailing envelope to: Holiday Evergreens Forever and Angel with Lute Cancel, Postmaster, 421 Eighth Ave., Rm. 2029B, New York, NY 10199-9998.

The canceled envelopes will be returned via regular mail, but the USPS MUST receive any orders for them by Dec. 21.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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