Staff Photo: John Bohn Jerri and Vernon Farriba, of White, Georgia, mail their Christmas cards at the United States Post Office in Bethlehem, GA, to have a Bethlehem postal stamp placed on their cards. Not only do Georgians travel from all over the state for this stamp, others mail packages of cards to the Bethlehem Post Office to obtain the stamp. The Farriba's have been using the Bethlehem post office for over 40 years to post their Christmas cards.
BETHLEHEM -- Despite the iPads and Kindles at the top of wish lists this season and increasing ways to send a virtual Christmas greeting over the Internet, the old-fashioned Christmas card is not going away.
In the Barrow County town of Bethelhem, namesake of the birthplace of Jesus, thousands of greeting cards get postmarked by a machine that dates back at least 60 years.
At the United States Postal Service branch on Christmas Avenue, a small team makes sure this holiday tradition runs smoothly year after year, allowing patrons to get the "Season's Greetings from Bethlehem" postmark and, if they choose, a red or black hand stamp in the lobby.
Kim Camp, who has been a clerk at the Bethlehem branch for eight years, said traffic isn't slowing down.
"We have processed 89,000 cards since the day after Thanksgiving," Camp said. "We had 138,000 last year, and this year we're hoping for 150,000."
Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, the USPS expects to process 17.9 billion pieces of mail -- cards, letters and packages. Tuesday alone, it expected 658 million pieces, compared to the daily average of 528 million.
For Bethlehem, this means manually feeding the Christmas cards -- many of which are placed in a blue box in the lobby, others outside in the drive-through lane -- through the old flyer machine. In order to ensure spare parts are available, the post office owns three others just like it.
Postmaster Ada Czajkowski said the number of letters postmarked per minute depends on experience with the machine.
"I can only do about 10," Czajkowski said. "But (fellow employees Anita Ransom and Kelly Bruce) can do about 100."
Getting the postmark is a coveted holiday seal of approval that can't be duplicated online. Some people send packages of letters to the post office just for that postmark. Others, such as Jerri Farriba of Cartersville, make a long drive on on a rainy day wearing a colorful, festive sweater for the occasion.
"I think my friends would be disappointed if we didn't do them," Farriba said. "We would hear from a lot of people. It kind of makes me feel good."
Farriba and her husband, Vernon, came Monday with about 115 cards to stamp and send. They first heard about the Bethlehem post office when they lived in DeKalb County. But even with the long drive each year since moving away, they keep coming back.
"You just keep doing things that you love to do."
Julie Davis lives much closer, in neighboring Winder. She started sending her cards from Bethlehem a couple of years ago. She brought about 70 cards with her on Monday.
"It's cool to say (your Christmas cards) come from Bethlehem," she said.