Tiny Georgia town with holiday name draws postal deluge

By KARAH-LEIGH HANCOCK
Morris News Service
BETHLEHEM, Ga. — Even in the Internet age, greeting cards continue in popularity as the media of choice for many to wish family and friends a merry Christmas.
Since Thanksgiving, more than 75,000 of those cards started their trips at a post office in Bethlehem — that is, the quaint Georgia town 20 miles west of Athens.
“We keep track of them every year,” Bethlehem Postmaster Ada Czajkowski said of the Christmas cards. “We had over 100,000 last year.”
The Bethlehem post office receives packages of Christmas cards from other places in Georgia and as far away as Alaska, Germany and Norway to mail.
The first known Christmas card was sent in 1843 in London when Sir Henry Cole hired John Calcott Horsley, a painter and illustrator, to design a card to send to his friends, according to the Hallmark Card Archives.
But it was Lithographer Louis Prang, a Prussian immigrant in Boston, Mass., who is considered the father of the Christmas card after publishing the first card to say “Merry Christmas” in 1875.
Since then, sending Christmas cards grew into a holiday tradition, not just in America, but throughout the world.
“My mom raised me to send Christmas cards to friends and family and it’s a tradition I continue and enjoy,” said Sarah Cook of Statham.

But thanks to smartphones, tablets and computers, many now opt to send electronic cards via the Internet.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other social media outlets make it simple to send an image to a friend or family member, telling them happy birthday or get well soon.

Christmas cards, though, seem to buck the electronic trend in favor of an envelope and stamp.

“There’s nothing like receiving a Holiday card in the mail from loved ones,” said Laura Gibson of Athens. “Our daily business has a tendency of stealing our attention and it can sweep us off our feet, but receiving a sweet card filled with loving words or snapshots of beautiful faces can bring us back where we all should be, focused on the importance of each moment and each sweet soul that has touched our lives.”

The Associated Press recently reported that greeting card maker Hallmark intends to shut down one of its production plants in Kansas, which makes a third of the company’s cards.

However, according to the U.S. Greeting Card Association of America, Christmas remained the No. 1 card-sending holiday in 2011 with more than 2 billion boxed and individual Christmas cards sold last year.

Sales are expected to reach $427 million this year and boxed holiday cards are experiencing strong sales as well, according to the association.

“I know that I love opening up the mailbox to see handwritten envelopes this time of year, knowing that they contain Christmas cards that have been sent to my son and me,” Cook said. “We hang up the cards in our kitchen so that we can look at them all season long.”

Many of those cards make their way to the Bethlehem Post Office to receive a postmark stamp with the name of the biblical site of Jesus Christ’s birth.

“It means a lot to people,” Czajkowski said.



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