By Peggy Eastman
The United States Postal Service chose Washington National Cathedral’s Bethlehem Chapel to issue its Holy Family Forever stamp on Oct. 10. The stamp depicts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt after Christ’s birth. The family appears in silhouette against a deep orange sky with the brightly shining Christmas star ahead of them. Joseph leads a donkey on which Mary and the infant Jesus ride.
The contemporary artwork on the stamp, now available nationwide, is a departure from some of previous Christmas stamps featuring traditional artwork of Mary and Jesus. Indeed, the 1980 USPS Christmas stamp showed the Madonna and Child in Bethlehem Chapel’s Epiphany stained-glass window.
Canon Kathleen Cox, executive director and chief operating officer of the cathedral, said it was “very fitting” for the new stamp to be unveiled in Bethlehem Chapel, as this was the first chapel completed at the cathedral and it is filled with Christmas imagery, right down to its needlepoint kneelers.
The Very Rev. Gary R. Hall, who assumed his duties at the 10th dean of the cathedral on Oct. 1, noted that, unlike previous Christmas stamps, the imagery of this one speaks to a variety of religious traditions because the flight into Egypt depicts the plight of the disenfranchised. Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt because the tyranny of Herod made it unsafe for them to stay in their own land: “Christianity has always stood with people who are up against it.”
“The holy family are refugees,” Hall told TLC after the ceremony. The new Christmas stamp is a reminder to those who see it on Christmas cards and letters of the oppression that exists today in lands where military domination, brutality and war thrive, he said.
“We are a faith community in a country with no established religion,” Dean Hall said, and the cathedral’s mission is to be a house of prayer for all people, not just Christians. The cathedral, he said, stands “at the intersection of faith and public life.”
“This historic site has become a sacred place for our country,” said Louis J. Giuliano, a member of the USPS Board of Governors who is the former chairman, president and CEO of ITT Corp. He said Christmas is a time “to come together in unity,” and “a joyous time for the postal service.”
The new Christmas stamp celebrates “the miraculous hope of salvation that we celebrate each season” and the “spirit of goodwill” that marks the holiday months, Giuliano said.
He added that he always looks at the stamp on a piece of mail he receives, and that for him a Christmas stamp makes a card “that much more inviting.”
This year the USPS has printed 400 million new Holy Family Forever stamps. It also prints stamps commemorating Eid, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and Christmas stamps with images of Santa Claus and holiday decorations.
Doreen Gentzler, news anchor of NBC4-TV, served as master of ceremonies; the stamp ceremony featured the Cathedral Girls Choir and harpist Susan Robinson.