WASHINGTON - The U.S. Postal Service unveiled its new Christmas stamp for the upcoming holiday season with a message that it hopes will continue beyond Dec. 25.
The stamp dedication ceremony took place Nov. 19 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington in front of about 50 spectators. The new stamp features the three Magi, perched on camels, being guided by the star of Bethlehem as it rises in the east.
"The story of these three wise men emphasizes the importance of the Christmas message, and the hope and the wonder that (Christ) offers all of mankind," said Louis J. Giuliano, a member of the Postal Service board of governors. "Like the Christmas story and the story of the Wise Men, these stamps are good forever. I think that's important."
Each year, the service issues holiday stamps through the agency's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. The committee, established in 1957, submits proposals for new stamps which must be approved by the postmaster general.
This year, artist Nancy Stahl, who has worked with the Postal Service before, collaborated on the Christmas stamp with designer Greg Breeding. To draw the Magi, Stahl said, she researched the clothing worn by people of the areas where the three men came from and looked at modern representations of them in Christmas processions.
"I looked at everything," she said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "I took my own direction. I wanted it to have a sense of awe and I wanted it to be slightly majestic so it would have some special quality to it."
Cindy L. Tackett, a marketing agent for the Postal Service, said the Christmas stamp always has a large demand. Whereas a typical stamp mailing is around 20 million to 40 million, she said, sales of the Christmas stamp can reach 100 million.
"It's an important time of the year for us and we know our customers come into post offices looking for these stamps to mail their holiday cards," she said.
For Stahl, the fact that people across the U.S. will see her artwork is "very cool," she said.
"Because Christmas is when people use the mail most (and) that's when they send out a lot of cards ... this will get used a lot and that makes me very happy," she said. "It's so much fun to receive (the stamp) on your own mail."
Giuliano said the Postal Service is "pleased and excited" that the stamp will be used by millions of Americans in the upcoming weeks and he thinks it will provide people an opportunity to consider "the real meaning of Christmas."
Although sales of the Christmas stamp peak during the holiday season, Giuliano said he hopes people will continue to use it throughout the year to spread "the spirit of good will."
"It's a beautiful stamp and when you put it on a letter ... even if it's not Christmas, I think it would make you feel lighter and encouraged by the Christmas message," he said. "Hopefully the person who receives it might (feel that way) as well."