Today, Christmas stamps are sold by many countries during the holidays and used to add some color and cheer to Christmas cards and letters. But how did this tradition begin?
In December 1898, Canada issued a 2-cent stamp to celebrate the introduction of imperial penny postage and inscribed with the words "XMAS 1898." This stamp is usually considered the world's first Christmas stamp, but it was not actually released to celebrate the holidays. Instead, the legend suggested, postmaster William Mulock suggested to Queen Victoria that the stamp should be released in November "in honor of the Prince" (meaning Prince of Wales). But when the queen showed obvious dissatisfaction with the idea and asked which prince he was referring to, Mulock quickly replied: "Why, Prince of Peace, wife". So when the stamp was issued in December it carried not only the image of a world map but also the words "XMAS 1898" at the bottom of the stamp.
It wasn't until almost 40 years later that another country issued a Christmas stamp. This time the country was Austria. In 1937, it issued two stamps, which were labeled "Christmas greeting stamps", but none of them had a Christmas theme. One showed a zodiac sign and the other depicted a rose. Brazil was next in line and issued four half-postage stamps in 1939, and Hungary followed suit with a half-postage stamp in 1941. Half-postage stamps are the ones sold over the value of the stamp to raise money for a specific item.
So it wasn't until 1943 that Hungary issued the first Christmas-themed stamp that was specifically sold as a holiday stamp. Many nations in the world issue stamps with a Christmas theme that is intended to be used on seasonal letters.
The first Christmas stamp issued by the United States was a 4 cent stamp issued in 1962. The green and red stamp contained a wreath, two candles and the words "Christmas 1962". The postal service anticipated high demand for the new stamp and ordered 350 million printed, the largest number ever produced up to that time for a special stamp. But that was not enough. When the first delivery quickly ended, the engraving and printing agency stopped around the clock to print more. At the end of the season, one billion of the first Christmas stamps were printed and distributed.