Many people embellish the CHRISTMAS CARDS, letters, and packages they send during the holiday season with special, decorative stamps called Christmas seals. Although the seals have no value as postage, the money collected in return for them supports various charitable causes. A Danish postmaster came up with the idea for Christmas seals around the turn of the twentieth century. Since then, they have spread to dozens of countries around the world, including the United States.
Danish postmaster Einar Holbøll designed the first mass-produced Christmas seals in 1904. The post office sold four million of the decorative stamps that year, giving birth to a new Danish Christmas tradition. Jacob Riis, an emigrant to the United States, publicized the success of Denmark’s Christmas seals in an American magazine article. In 1907 Emily Bissel, a Red Cross worker, adopted the idea of selling Christmas seals as a way of raising money for the Red Cross in Wilmington, Delaware. Her success led other organizations to issue Christmas seals the following year, and soon the idea spread across the country. In 1919 the National Tuberculosis Association, which later became the American Lung Association, cornered the market on Christmas seals, becoming the sole issuer of the decorative Christmas stamps in the United States. Today the seals earn millions of dollars a year for the American Lung Association.