John Mullally looks at the contenders from around the world who lay claim to issuing the first Christmas stamp

The history of Christmas stamps is an interesting one as there is quite a bit of disagreement of what was the actual first stamp to commemorate the holiday.
It really depends on what your definition of a ‘Christmas stamp’ should be. Does the mere word  ‘Christmas’ (or similar term) make it a true ‘Christmas stamp’, or is it the pictorial theme of something representing our concept of this festive time of year?

For example, a casual observer of stamps would say that Ireland produced some of the World’s first Christmas stamps, pointing to that beautiful 1954 stamp showing the Madonna and Child by Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia; or that 1960 stamp showing The Holy Family.

However Ireland makes no Christmas claim in either case. The stamp showing the Madonna was printed to mark the Marian Year, 1953-54; while the stamp of the Holy Family was issued by the Irish state postal service to mark World Refugee Year 1959-1960.

Perhaps a true Christmas stamp is the one designed specifically for carrying greetings cards or holiday packages. As we will see, there are several contenders in each of these categories.

CANADA released a single two-cent stamp on 7 December 1898, bearing the text  ‘Xmas 1898′. While considered by some to have been the world’s first Christmas stamp, it wasn’t issued to honor the holiday but rather the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Post. The inscription was added to mark the effective date of the new postal rates.
An often-repeated story says that when a post office official presented the new Canadian stamp to Queen Victoria, he suggested that it could serve as a tribute to the prince. The official was referring to the then Prince of Wales (who became King Edward VII upon Victoria’s death three years later) whose birthday was 9 November, the date originally selected for the release of the stamp.

Queen Victoria is said to have replied,  ‘Which prince?’ in a tone that made clear she would not be pleased with a royal connection other than herself. The official quickly replied  ‘the Prince of Peace’, referring to the Christ child.

DENMARK claims it printed the first Christmas stamp in 1904 after an idea from postmaster, Einar Holboell, to add an extra stamp to the Christmas mail and the money go to help sick children. However these  ‘stamps’ were actually labels and not issued for postage.

Continue reading in this week’s Christmas double issue 5582/83