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Making Christmas special in Henry County

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By Janny Wilcke

Nestled in southeast Henry County in the village of Bethlehem is a treasure – the little Bethlehem post office. And yes, I am prejudiced, but perhaps less because I happen to live in Bethlehem than because of the hustle and bustle that I have experienced in big-city post offices, such as New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and, most recently, Louisville.

I imagine that folks who have lived only in rural areas may take the warmth and personal service of a small-town postmaster for granted, but I do not. Having endured the long lines and the impersonal anonymity of urban post offices, I’m still taken aback when I go to the Bethlehem post office to check my husband’s box or to buy stamps and am warmly greeted by our postmistress, Susan Leopold. She knows me by name, as I suspect she does most of the county folks who come through her door.  We usually have a brief chat, and I always leave with spirits buoyed by our friendly exchange.

For the Bethlehem post office, and for Susan, the Christmas season is very special. It is the time when our little post office offers the age-old and increasingly unusual service of hand stamping each individual envelope and package.  Susan stamps them with a pictorial postmark of the three wise men following the Star of Bethlehem. This tradition, which has been carried out for more than 60 years, is commemorated by the recent addition to the cachet of the words, “from Bethlehem – since 1947.”

So popular has been this service that many folks from out of state and even from foreign countries have sent unmarked cards to be stamped with the “Bethlehem, Kentucky” Christmas postmark. There have been single seasons when more than fifty thousand items have been received to be hand stamped.

In recent years, a growing number of people have switched from the postal system to email to convey their Christmas greetings. Others have simply stopped sending cards at all. “Postage costs too much these days,” I hear people grumble as they pass by the display of Christmas cards at Walmart. Still others hastily fill envelopes with cards on which greetings and even the signatures have been pre-printed.

I absolutely love to receive personal cards from friends and acquaintances at Christmas. In some cases, Christmas is our only communication, and I am delighted with this testimony to our friendship as well as the chance to catch up on the year’s news.

Think about it. Isn’t friendship worth 44-cents postage a year? Forty-four-cents to tell someone you care seems like a pretty good bargain to me.  And the Christmas postmark offered by the Bethlehem post office is a lovely addition to a personal Christmas greeting.  The service is free.
The Bethlehem post office is still housed in the former home of Mrs. Anna Laura Peyton, who began the stamping tradition in 1947. I promise you the cozy and friendly atmosphere will warm your heart. Susan tells me that the hours for the Bethlehem post office, which are normally 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., are extended an extra two hours each day – until 2:30 p.m. – from Dec. 9-17, for convenience.

Hand stamping of Christmas card envelopes is rare. I encourage you to join me this year and take advantage. Susan will be glad to see you.