Postmarked Bethlehem: Holiday cards, packages pour into Barrow post office

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

BETHLEHEM -- O come all ye faithful.

O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.

While it's not the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem where the baby Jesus is believed to have been born, people do travel from far and near to the tiny Barrow County town of Bethlehem to, as John McCauslan of Dacula put it, "keep Christ in Christmas."

Thousands of Christmas greeting cards are mailed out to recipients around the country and abroad each holiday season postmarked from Bethlehem, Ga.

McCauslan and his wife mailed 50 on Tuesday. Harriet McCauslan inked each card by hand with a rubber stamp and ink pad provided to read "Christmas Greetings from Bethlehem."

"I think this is a good way for people to stay in contact with the people that they love," said Bethlehem Post Master Ada Czajkowski. "It's a good, inexpensive way to share Christmas with one another instead of all this gift buying and everything."

On Monday, the busiest mailing day of the season for U.S. post offices, 32,800 holiday cards were postmarked in Bethlehem.

"The cards were heavier than we've ever seen it," clerk Kim Camp said. "It was crazy."

The post office typically fills one large rolling cart with outgoing mail a day, two at the most. On Monday, four or five carts went out, Camp said.

And while daily business on the front end is usually taken care of by a single clerk, the increase in customers on Monday required two clerks and other staff to clear out the area behind the front counter.

"As a matter of fact, we stayed open through lunch yesterday," Camp said. "We normally close for an hour, (but) we stayed open. We normally close the door (for the day) at 4:30, and I think we got the doors locked at 5 last night."

Last year, the Bethlehem Post Office processed 168,000 Christmas cards. As of Monday, a little more than 100,000 had come through.

Every card that comes through the Bethlehem Post Office is fed, by hand, into a machine more than a century old that cancels the stamp (defaces it, preventing it from being reused) by inking over it with the words "Seasons Greetings from Bethlehem" and a design featuring heralding angels.

"This is the only time we will ever cancel the stamp, through the month, from Thanksgiving to now," Camp said. "After the holidays, everything gets sent to North Metro or Athens."

The post office has the machine serviced once a year to get it ready for the Christmas holiday. In case of an emergency breakdown or malfunction, two or three other machines are stored at the Winder Post Office.

Alan Kunkel, who recently moved to Lawrenceville, was mailing out his family's Christmas cards from Bethlehem on Tuesday morning.

"We had heard stories in the past about people posting their cards from here," Kunkel said. "We thought this year we would do it, being we're new to the area."

Kunkel was hand-stamping about 40 cards to read "Christmas Greetings from Bethlehem."

"It's just as additional touch oriented to the holiday, the special time and special meaning that it has," he said. "Having it come from Bethlehem, in a sense, the city where Christ was born, in name, is just an added touch for the holidays."

Does he expect to get comments from the recipients?

"I'm sure we will," he said.

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