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Bethlehem post office offers unique holiday stamp

Postmarked envelopes offer seasons greeting from the Bethlehem post office. Postmaster Ada Czajkowski says the volume of mail increases more than four times the original amount due to people traveling from all over the state to get their cards postmarked at the Bethlehem post office.

Postmarked envelopes offer seasons greeting from the Bethlehem post office. Postmaster Ada Czajkowski says the volume of mail increases more than four times the original amount due to people traveling from all over the state to get their cards postmarked at the Bethlehem post office.

By The Numbers

150,000: Approximate number of holiday cards stamped in Bethlehem, Ga.

55: Age of machine used for Bethlehem postmarks

Dec. 21: Latest date to get cards in the mail to arrive before Christmas

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Jane Brown, left, Debbie Kulcsar, center, and Suzanne Phillips stamp holiday cards while in the lobby of the Bethlehem post office Tuesday in Bethlehem. People travel from all over the state to get their cards postmarked at the Bethlehem post office for the holiday season.

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Kim Camp stamps the postmarks on outgoing mail with a antique cancelation machine from the 1950's. Camp has been using the machine every holiday season since she started working at the Bethlehem Post Office eight years ago.

BETHLEHEM -- When she sends out invites for her annual holiday party, Patty Livingston reminds friends to bring all the Christmas cards they plan to mail out.

As a 14-year resident of the small city in Barrow County, she knows they'll want to stop at the post office on their way into town for the Bethlehem, Ga., postmark.

They're not alone. Every year during the holiday season, thousands of people arrive at the post office seeking the ink stamp, while letters pour in from people all over the world wanting the same.

The holiday season is always a busy time for the town, which shares a name with the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem identified by the New Testament Gospels as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Bethlehem Postmaster Ada Czajkowski said getting the stamp is "important to a lot of people, and we're glad to be a part of that tradition. It's a lot of extra work for us, but it's something we enjoy."

Czajkowski said that during the holidays customer numbers increase "by at least 10 times. We're in high gear, but we're glad to do it for Christmas."

Every card that comes through the post office must be fed by hand into a machine that cancels the original stamp from where it was sent.

Postal Worker Kim Camp runs the 50-plus year old machine, which inks over the original stamp with "Seasons Greetings from Bethlehem."

Customers at the post office may also hand stamp their envelopes with various holiday greeting messages as well.

Livingston said Christmas cards are "a big part of Christmas. Without Christmas cards, it just wouldn't be the same, and it's hard to imagine sending out my cards without the Bethlehem stamp on them."

With budgets currently being slashed in the cash-strapped federal agency, some small-town branches could soon see their doors closed.

The U.S. Postal Service announced last week that it would delay the closing of 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices until mid-May.

In a statement, the agency said it would hold off on closings to give Congress time to pass legislation that would give it more authority to avoid bankruptcy.

The Postal Service announced the cutbacks in light of a forecasted loss of $14.1 billion next year.

Livingston said she hopes her Bethlehem branch doesn't suffer such a fate.

"I can't imagine this ever going away," Livingston said. "This is such an important Christmas tradition for so many people. Christmas cards wouldn't be the same without the stamps here."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story