Switzerland released a set of four festive stamps on 13 November depicting Santa Claus, holiday cookies, an advent wreath, and a crib. They were designed by graphic artist Dominique Rossier from Puidoux, above Vevey. The press release from WOPA provides a wealth of information:
“Because there was no room at the inn”
The gospel according to Luke describes in concise words how Mary gave birth to her son in a stable, wrapped him in a cloth and placed him on some straw in a manger. Frescoes depicting this scene were created as far back as the third century A.D.
According to the legend, one of the first representations of the nativity scene with real figures is the portrayal by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 in Greccio, in the province of Rieti near Rome. He depicted the birth of Jesus with people and animals in the forest chapel, celebrated mass at midnight and thus became the real “inventor” of the nativity scene. His representation of the newborn baby Jesus in the manger between the ox and donkey went down in the annals of Christianity and has remained basically until today.
Over the centuries, Mary and Joseph were joined by other figures such as the shepherds mentioned in the gospel according to Luke and animals. In the Baroque period, convent and monastery churches in particular began to set up entire nativity landscapes, integrating additional scenes from the life of Jesus. A number of cultures subsequently incorporated their own original elements. And today we still sing: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little lord Jesus laid down his sweet head…”
“Oh yes, Santa Claus does exist”
The friendly, smiling figure, with his white bushy beard and red, fur-adorned coat, has been around since 1863 when American cartoonist Thomas Nast created him in this form for posterity. The existence of this rotund children’s friend was then definitively confirmed just over 100 years ago when newspapers reported that he actually existed – and of course, if it says so in the newspaper then it must be true.
Back at the time, eight-year-old Virginia wrote to the editor that several of her friends had claimed that Santa Claus didn’t exist. The editor then sat down and replied: “Your friends are wrong. They have been infected with the scepticism of a sceptical era. They only believe what they see: they believe that anything they can’t grasp with their small minds cannot exist. Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus does exist. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. And you know that all these things exist, which is why our life can be so beautiful and merry. How dark the world would be if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dark as if there were no Virginia. Is that really true, you may ask. Virginia, nothing in the world is more true or more lasting. Santa Claus lives, and he will live forever. Even in ten thousand years he will be there, making children like you and all open hearts happy. Merry Christmas! Hohoho!”
“When will Christmas finally come?”
Children are understandably impatient. In German-speaking countries, a wreath made of fir branches and four chunky candles traditionally signals the countdown in almost every home. But this wasn’t always the case. In 1839, for example, people used 19 thin red candles plus four thick white ones – the red candles for the weekdays, and the white ones for the Sundays in the Advent period.
This was the very first Advent wreath in the world. It hung from the ceiling in an orphanage in Hamburg. The manager of the orphanage, Johann Hinrich Wichern, had made it himself from a large old wagon wheel. It also served to teach the children how to count. The idea had an intriguing aspect: each year there was a different number of candles.
In contrast to the classic Advent calendar with its 24 days of December, the Advent wreath counts the days from the first of Advent until Christmas Eve. So there are at least 22 days (if Christmas Eve falls on the fourth Sunday in Advent) and a maximum of 28 days (if Christmas Eve is on the Saturday after the fourth Advent Sunday).
Johann Hinrich Wichern’s invention proved popular, and more and more Advent wreaths were used over the course of the years to decorate first churches and then private homes. But who has room for a wagon wheel with a diameter of two metres? People therefore started to pare the wreaths down to four candles for the Advent Sundays. But they still create a Christmassy atmosphere.
“The aroma of cinnamon tells you it’s Christmas”
In addition to tasting good, Christmas cookies also evoke memories and emotions. Cinnamon stars, Brunsli, Mailänderli and Chräberli are the classic Swiss cookies. Recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. The history of cinnamon stars, for example, dates back to the 16th century, when cinnamon was an expensive commodity. And one of the oldest Brunsli recipes is from the year 1750.
Of course, the art of baking has undergone some changes since then. But the basics of the recipes have remained the same. And for most of us, Christmas without the traditional cookies simply wouldn’t be Christmas.
But their roots do not really have anything to do with Christianity. The custom of baking during the shortest days of the year goes back thousands of years when people mixed the ground grains of cereals with the honey of wild bees and baked the dough on hot stones. The cakes were eaten to mark the winter solstice or hung in the wind as a sacrifice. People often threw them into a river or a fire to pacify evil spirits and demons. How fortunate that in our open-minded times we are allowed to taste these wonderful Christmas delicacies ourselves! Preferably in the gentle light of the decorated Christmas tree…
Issue Date: 13.11.2014
Designer: Dominique Rossier, Puidoux (VD)
Printer: Cartor Security Printing La Loupe, France
Process: Offset, 4-Colour
Colours: 4 Colours
Size: 33 × 28mm
Brazil released their four Christmas stamps for 2014 on 5 November. The first stamp reproduces typical ornaments of the Christmas period. In the lower right corner, a lighted candle represents the warm peace of Christmas. The picture with the image of Jesus symbolizes the messenger of hope and gathering around a bountiful table, where a happy family is having supper.
The second stamp reproduces the scene of exchanging gifts. At the left bottom, is a boy with open arms, wearing a Santa hat. Just behind him a girl holds a beautiful gift box. In the background, two family scenes, showing the excitement and joy of giving and receiving gifts.
Brazil also issued a mini-sheet of two stamps dedicated to Saint Nikolas, or Santa Claus.
Regardless of your religious affiliation or the manner in which you celebrate (if at all) the Christmas season, I hope you are enjoying a look at the beautiful art created on these bits of paper we call postage stamps. If you would like to spread a little holiday cheer and send me a postcard or letter with a nice Christmas stamp affixed, I’d be very appreciative. My mailing address can be found below.
8/1 Suthas Soi 2
T. Talat Yai
A. Muang Phuket