Winter holiday stamps: How does the US Postal Service select its stamp designs?

There are roughly three weeks until Hanukkah, four weeks until Christmas and Kwanzaa, and five weeks until New Year’s Day. As the amount of days until the start of each winter holiday gets smaller and smaller, the lines at local post offices seem to get longer and longer. Yes, as the holidays approach, more and more people head to the US post office to send their holiday cards to friends and family across the globe.

But, you can’t put just any stamp on your holiday cards, right?

Envelopes are like the gift wrap for the holiday sentiments shared on greeting cards. And, it’s only fitting to affix a holiday-themed stamp of our choice to its exterior. But, the stamp you choose may be based on the holiday you celebrate – or the ones celebrated by the recipient.

Just today, I looked online and saw more than 14 choices of winter holiday-themed stamps.

The Hanukkah stamps feature a menorah and a dreidel. The Christmas stamps feature ornaments, a poinsettia, Santa Claus and more. And, the Kwanzaa stamp features people gathered around a lighted kinara.

Credit:  USPS.com

Credit: USPS.com

This year, you also can select a new Global Holiday Forever stamp - the Global Silver Bells Wreath. The stamp, issued on October 23, 2014, features a wreath of silver bells tied with a bright red bow and displayed against a green circular background. According to the US Postal Service, “wreaths express the festive spirit of the holidays,” and the Global Silver Bells Wreath stamp can “add a touch of holiday joy to your cards and letters.”

Global Silver Bells Wreath is the second issuance in the US Postal Service’s Global Holiday Forever stamp series. The first stamp, Evergreen Wreath, was issued on October 23, 2013.

But, its first issuance of a winter holiday stamp wasn't until 1962.

The history behind the release of US Postal Service holiday stamps

Three winter holiday celebrations are currently featured on US postal stamps - Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

The US Postal Service also includes its Eid stamp with the other winter holiday stamps although the two Islamic festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Ed al-Adha were celebrated this year on July 29 and October 4, respectively. Both holidays take place at different times each year, and soon will fall again during the winter months.

Credit: USPS.com

Credit: USPS.com

The US Postal Service issued its first holiday Christmas stamp in 1962. According to the US Postal Service, the decision to print a Christmas stamp generated some controversy, especially from groups concerned about maintaining the separation of church and state, and legal actions to bar the stamps at the time proved to be unsuccessful.

It was another 34 years until the US Postal Service released its first Hanukkah stamp.

Credit: USPS.com

Credit: USPS.com

In 1996, the US Postal Service "paid tribute" to Hanukkah with a stamp featuring a "stylized illustration" of a menorah.

The following year, the US Postal Service issued its first Kwanzaa stamp. The stamp featured a "colorful portrait of an African-American family - a 'symbol of family and togetherness.'"

The first stamp for Eid was issued in 2001. The holiday stamp featured the phrase "Eid Mubarak," which means "blessed festival." It commemorates the two festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Ed al-Adha.

The US Postal Service says it is proud of a stamp program that celebrates the rich diversity of American culture and it recog­nizes that some individuals may disagree with its selections on occasion. For that reason, it offers a wide variety of stamps so its customers always have options.

I appreciate the diversity of the holiday stamps. But, have you ever wondered how US postal stamps are selected to help ensure we have a variety of options to choose from? I did. That's why I had to find out more.

Careful selection of US Postal Service stamps

576574-01-main-180x233The US Postal Service expressly states that it welcomes written suggestions for stamp subjects that help portray the diversity of the American experience for a worldwide audience. Each year, the US Postal Service receives thousands of suggestions for new postage stamps.

In 1957, five years before the issuance of its first Christmas stamp, the US Postal Service established its Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.

The Committee reviews the suggestions and recommends new stamp designs to the Postmaster General. The ultimate goal is to create an annual stamp program that reflects America — from the events and people that bind the nation together, to the diversity of cultures that forms its foundation.

Credit: USPS.com

Credit: USPS.com

The Citizens’ Stamp Advistory Committee is currently made up of 14 members. The members, appointed by the Postmaster General, hail from academic and cultural institutions and are artists, writers, athletes, media personalities, government officials, among other professions.

When considering a new stamp design, the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee evaluates it against 11 stated criteria. One of the criteria requests that the design feature American or American-related subjects, or that the subject has had a significant impact on American history or culture. Another criteria states that the stamp subjects need to reflect the nation’s diverse population.

The Committee recommends approximately 25 to 30 stamp subjects to the Postmaster General each year. Fifty stamps were issued (or reissued) this year alone.

For me, it’s helpful to have a better understanding of the concerted efforts of the US Postal Service to take the diverse representation of the American people into account when issuing (or reissuing) stamps. That’s why, I plan to take more pleasure in perusing the holiday stamps available for purchase and selecting a diverse selection to affix to my holiday cards this year.

Do you enjoy selecting the perfect stamp to affix to your holiday card envelopes? Do you personally go to the post office or its website to select your favorite ones? Which winter holidays are you particularly glad to see on US postal stamps? Are there any other winter holidays you think should be represented with a stamp? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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