Bethlehem, Ga., postmark retains Christmas popularity

Mail comes in from around the world for the Bethlehem postmark

BETHLEHEM, Ga. — Even in the Internet age, Christmas cards remain popular.


Since Thanksgiving, more than 75,000 of those cards started their trips at a post office in Bethlehem – a quaint Georgia town 20 miles west of Athens.

“We keep track of them every year,” Bethlehem Postmaster Ada Czajkowski said. “We had over 100,000 last year.”

The Bethlehem post office receives packages of Christmas cards from other places in Georgia and as far away as Alaska, Germany and Norway.

The first known Christmas card was sent in 1843 in London, when Sir Henry Cole hired John Calcott Horsley, a painter and illustrator, to design a card to send to his friends, according to the Hallmark Card Archives.

But it was lithographer Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant in Boston, who is considered the father of the Christmas card. He published the first card saying “Merry Christmas” in 1875.

Since then, Christmas cards have grown into a holiday tradition throughout the world.

“My mom raised me to send Christmas cards to friends and family, and it’s a tradition I continue and enjoy,” said Sarah Cook of Statham.

But thanks to smartphones, tablets and computers, many now opt to send electronic cards via the Internet.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social media outlets make sending an image and a happy birthday or get well message to a friend or family member simple.

Christmas cards, though, seem to buck the electronic trend.

“There’s nothing like receiving a holiday card in the mail from loved ones,” said Laura Gibson of Athens.

The Associated Press recently reported that greeting card maker Hallmark intends to shut down one of its production plants in Kansas, which makes a third of the company’s cards.

However, according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association of America, Christmas remained the No. 1 card-sending holiday in 2011, with more than 2 billion boxed and individual cards sold.

Sales are expected to reach $427 million this year, according to the association.

“I know that I love opening up the mailbox to see handwritten envelopes this time of year, knowing that they contain Christmas cards that have been sent to my son and me,” Cook said. “We hang up the cards in our kitchen so that we can look at them all season long.”

Many of those cards make their way to the Bethlehem post office to receive a postmark stamp with the name of the biblical site of Jesus Christ’s birth.

“It means a lot to people,” Czajkowski said. “It’s very important to them. They’re excited about it. Some people really don’t get it, but others are very excited about the fact that we do it and others are like, ‘Thank you, we really appreciate you doing this.’ ”

The post office even sells a stamp that reads, “Christmas greetings from Bethlehem.”

“The stamp is really cute,” Czajkowski said. “It has the Three Wise Men and the star and everything. Our postmark says, ‘Seasons greetings from Bethlehem.’ ”



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