NOEL — More than 40,000 Christmas cards sent worldwide had a little piece of Southwest Missouri on them this year.
For the 80th year now, the U.S. Post Office in Noel offered their unique Christmas stamp program.
A group of approximately 40 volunteers split their time between Black Friday and Christmas Eve placing the stamp of The Christmas City on holiday cards.
Dot Harner, volunteer coordinator, said the program is a tradition special to the McDonald County town.
“We’re the only Noel in the United States,” Harner said. “It just kind of gets us into the Christmas spirit. We’ve been doing this for 80 years.”
The Christmas City stamping tradition began in 1932.
The story goes that the postmaster at the time, Edward T. Rousselot, of French descent, noted the French translation of “Noel” to Christmas, and proposed the idea of sending Christmas cards through the Noel post office to receive a special holiday stamp.
His idea caught on, and reportedly took off after famous radio personality Kate Smith told the story of the Noel stamp on her radio program in the 1940s.
Eighty years later, the tradition is still alive, though Harner said the number of Christmas cards passing through Noel has decreased in recent years.
“It’s down quite a bit, we’ve had it up to 100,000,” Harner said. “I think last year we did 80,000. We don’t want it to die out on us.”
Don Spiares, Noel postmaster, said he has seen the amount of Christmas cards mailed out dwindle in recent years, and opined that it may have to do with the economy.
Still, despite the decrease, Spiares said there has been much interest in the Noel stamp program, as boxes of cards to be stamped have arrived each morning at the post office. He said he also receives several phone calls from across the country seeking information about the special Noel stamps.
The program offers three stamps: a Christmas tree in green ink, accompanied by the text “Season's Greeting from Noel Missouri Christmas City USA.” There is also a wreath and a Noel stamp in red ink.
“It brings a lot of attention to the town,” Spiares said. “I’ve been in a lot of different post offices and everybody’s got their own little niche but this is the only one that I’ve been at where the niche has been nationwide.”
The stamp program, has in fact, become worldwide.
A map is displayed proudly on the wall of the post office, near the counter, where multi-colored tacks mark the locations cards have traveled from. This year, some cards traveled off the map, and a small note is stuck to the side, marking the deliveries from locations in France and Germany.
Page 2 of 2 - “The one from Germany, the gentleman sent it here going back to Germany,” Spiares said. “It had the postage to come here and then inside the envelope there was another envelope with the postage on it. He wanted the Christmas stamps on it to send back to Germany.”
Spiares said cards from faraway places are not traveling alone, and many areas are sending several at a time.
He noted a flat-rate box he received from Newark, N.J. filled with at least 50 Christmas cards.
He said many of the packages are simply addressed to Noel Postmaster, while a few mark that they are seeking the Christmas stamp.
The program comes at no cost to those mailing the cards, so long as they already have proper postage included on the card.
Organizers ask that only Christmas cards be sent for the stamp, though Harner said they occasionally receive a misplaced bill or packages.
“It’s a little hard on a package because it doesn’t show up as good,” she said.
Spiares said the program receives most of its cards by mail, though there are also several who walk in with their bundles of cards to be stamped.
“We’ll have people come in and they’ll enjoy doing their own stamping,” Harner said.