The first Christmas stamps

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Christmas is celebrated in many ways throughout the world so it’s no surprise that the philately for the holiday includes thousands of stamps and covers, most created since the mid-20th century. The Christmas theme is among the world’s most popular topical areas to collect.

Whenever we talk about “firsts,” a lot of contenders line up to make claims so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of firsts when it comes to Christmas stamps. That said, there’s little doubt that Canada can claim the first Christmas postage stamp connection, even if the stamp was not intended to specifically celebrate the holiday.

The 1898 2-cent stamp features a collage of Queen Victoria’s crown at the top, a Mercator map of the world with the nations and colonies of the British Empire displayed in red, “Xmas 1898” and the phrase, “We hold a vaster empire than has been.”

Two varieties of what many philatelists consider the world’s first Christmas stamp, Canada’s Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898. It was Canada’s first bicolor stamp and has major color varieties involving the colors of the ocean and land.

But why does it say “Xmas 1898?”
The stamp was issued December 7 and its use went into effect December 25, 1898, the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate (which was 2 cents in Canadian funds).

There is an oft-repeated story that Canadian Postmaster General William Mulock developed the stamp and proposed that it be issued on November 9 to “honor the prince,” meaning the Prince of Wales. But when Queen Victoria asked “what Prince?” in a displeased manner, Mulock realized the danger, and answered “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.”

Other Christmas Stamp Firsts:
Some have long held that Austria issued Christmas stamps on December 12, 1937. There is no Christmas imagery on the two stamps, which show a rose and signs of the Zodiac.

However, Kathy Ward, writing for the Christmas Philatelic Club, offers this: My suspicions were aroused when I purchased a first day cover of these stamps. On the cachet, it states that the Austrian post office issued the stamps to be used on ‘birth-day (sic) congratulatory letters.’ [That would explain the Zodiac symbols meaning an intent for year-round use.] A letter from Austria confirmed my suspicions: “The first official Christmas stamp of the Austrian Post has been issued in 1953.”

In 1939–40, Brazil issued a set of four semipostals to raise money for charitable institutions. The first stamp, issued December 20, 1939, shows the Three Wise Men and Star of Bethlehem (leftmost stamp below).

Caught in the grip of World War II, Hungary in 1943 issued three stamps depicting the Nativity.

The first United States Christmas stamp was issued in 1962 and featured a candle and wreaths in green and red.

Source: American Philatelic Society