Holiday Philately

Christmas is a time when we all seem to embrace, or run screaming from, one of the oldest geekdoms in existence: philately. No matter what your holiday inclination, it is hard to escape this season without a visit to the post office to pick up, purchase, or peruse the postage. This week, while mailing coffee from Maine to Ohio, my husband got an education in shipping that tickles my love of the absurd.

The woman in line in front of him was shipping Maple Syrup to family. Now to my mind, this is a liquid, and so I’d have headed straight to UPS or FedEx, but no, oh no. There is a Maple Syrup exception to the liquid exemptions. There is even a special form and a special sticker for the box you are mailing. The postmaster gave everyone waiting in line a quick history lesson this week, and all learned that when the post office first banned liquid goods, a mighty fuss was raised by the New England states, and thus the Maple Syrup exemption was born. I can find no trace of this on usps.com; Google searches come to naught. But I know this Christmas tale is true; it came direct from the Postmaster. An online search on the Maple Syrup forums will tell me that a large flat rate box will hold three 1/2 gallons or two 1/2 gallons and one quart, and then that a medium flat rate box will hold two 1/2 gallons or one 1/2 gallon and one quart or pint, but nothing about this secret club that is the shippers of Maple Syrup.

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Image: USPS

I love seeing what holiday stamps the post office will come out with each year. I generally favor something in an ornament or a snowflake. So this Maple Syrup news sent me into a spiral of reminiscing this week, over the stamps I have used, and the ones I have missed. We used a combination of stamps this year. Wreaths for international mailings, Peanuts from this year’s offering, and then some Rudolph from 2014, because we had so many leftover. This reminiscing led to more Googling–doesn’t everything these days–and a great article on the history of the Holiday stamp over at St. Martin’s Press.

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Image: USPS

I did not know that the first holiday stamp was issued in 1962, nor that no stamp was issued in 2000 because of an overproduction in 1999. Looking over the list of stamps, I desperately want 1994’s “Cardinal in Snow” to be Tim Curry dressed as Cardinal Richlieu in a snowbank, but I’m pretty sure it’s not. The 1963 stamp depicting the White House Christmas Tree has an interesting and sad tale to tell. It was the year that JFK was assassinated in November, everyone still had to use the White House Christmas Tree for their mailings as all the stamps had already been printed.

I dabbled with stamp collecting once in my youth; it never got very far. These days I’m happy to confine my Philatetic interests to the holiday season. These days Zazzle will do the job for you at a slightly elevated price, but that takes the fun out of it for me. Rudolph last year, Peanuts this year. I’m putting in my vote for Will Ferrell in 2016.