Bethlehem post office continues holiday tradition

BETHLEHEM - Kathy Montgomery, Bethlehem's postmaster, has been back in town little more than a week after going on assignment for the U.S. Postal Service nearly two years ago.

But despite returning at the busiest time of year - especially for Bethlehem - Montgomery said she's happy to be heading the post office where people come from miles away so their Christmas cards will bear a cancellation from the name of Jesus' birthplace.

Especially the week before Christmas.

"The spirit of Christmas is here," she said. "Everyone has their lines, but they're like a line in a department store. We have the spirit of Christmas more here than they do anywhere else."

Lines were backed out the door of the small post office Monday, what Montgomery said was her busiest day of the year, but most people in the post office Wednesday afternoon had already mailed their Christmas cards.

Some local residents said the sentiment inside the card was what mattered, and not the Bethlehem cancellation. Others said they enjoyed the comments they got from people who saw the cancellation, with two heralding angels flanking the words "Season's Greetings from Bethlehem."

"I think it's a nice touch," said Bethlehem resident Faye McKenzie, who has lived in the town since 1998. "I just thought that it's a nice idea."

Montgomery estimated that 130,000 pieces of mail will go through Bethlehem's antique cancellation machine between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The town does not cancel mail at any other time of the year, but Montgomery said if she sees late Christmas cards, she'll pull them out so they can get the stamp, too.

After all, people send their cards to the Bethlehem post office from all over the world. Last year, cards came from France requesting the Bethlehem cancellation, and Montgomery said she got a stack this year from Israel.

And then there are the people who travel across Georgia and its neighboring states to the small white building.

"People make a little pilgrimage to come here to bring their cards," Montgomery said. "For some of them, it's family tradition. For some, it's curiosity. A lot of them say the person they're sending the cards to will comment about it."

In addition to a new machine to cancel the thousands of envelopes coming through, Montgomery said she hopes for a new post office to house her carriers, who have already filled up a trailer. The postal system began looking at giving the town a new building, but later put the effort on hold.

Explosive growth in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas have helped bring more and more postal pilgrims to the town, Montgomery said.

But that hasn't dimmed the spirits of Bethlehem's carriers, who don Santa hats or reindeer antlers to deliver last-minute presents on Christmas morning.

"It's really what we look forward to every year," Montgomery said. "It's the best time of year."