Christmas cards get holy touch with Bethlehem postmark

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BETHLEHEM, N.H. (AP) — Instead of mailing her Christmas cards from her local post office, Sherry Wareing drove 20 miles roundtrip to a small post office in a White Mountains town of about 2,500.

Convenience didn't matter to Wareing, of Twin Mountain. She wanted the "Bethlehem" stamp on her envelopes.

"We feel the connection here with Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, the birth of Christ and everything. This kind of represents it for us," she said.

According to the Bible, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in what is now the West Bank.

Most of the year, letters and other mail dropped off at the tiny post office are sent to a regional facility in White River Junction, Vermont. There, they stream through an efficient automated machine that cancels stamps with postal markings.

But each December, Bethlehem postmaster Brian Thompson dusts off a machine that has been there for at least six decades. Stacks of cards must be fed into it by hand and it cancels each stamp with the word "Bethlehem."

"It has a pinch wheel and it just starts drawing letters through," Thompson said. "The machine works great. But you'll stand there for several hours a day cancelling letters."

With two days before Christmas, Thompson said about 58,000 letters had gone through the machine.

There are about 90 post offices in the United States with holiday- or winter-themed names and the U.S. Postal Service offers a "Christmas Re-mailing" service to them. Letters may be sent to the postmaster in the town marked "Christmas Re-mailing" and they will be stamped and sent out.

The list includes six other Bethlehems along with Garland, Maine; Holly, Michigan; Rudolph, Ohio; Santa Claus, Indiana; Antlers, Oklahoma; Nazareth, Texas; and Snowflake, Arizona.

In Bethlehem, New Hampshire, Thompson provides rubber stamps and ink pads at a table where patrons mark their cards and packages with a 2-inch-square wooded scene that says "Bethlehem, New Hampshire."

Thompson said people come from around the state to get the postmark. For years, one family has been coming from Pennsylvania. They drive up, buy a Christmas tree and mail their greeting cards.

And, what is the response from people who receive those cards from the little town of Bethlehem, New Hampshire?

"They think it is amazing that they have their own special stamp here that says 'Bethlehem' on it," Wareing said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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