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Postmaster continues a 60-year tradition

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By Matt Goldman

It’s mid morning on Dec.3 and already the festive Christmas bells hanging on the door that signal an entering customer are ringing steadily. As a post-master during the holiday season, Susan Leopold always has her work cut out for her. Post Offices across the country see a dramatic increase in the number of greeting cards and gift packages that come in and go out their doors. Leopold however, has the added bonus of being the Postmaster of a little town called Bethlehem. In the spirit of the holiday season, people from across the country cancel their original postage marks and send their cards to her post office in order to have the Bethlehem postage and a decorative cachet placed on their gifts. The tradition has even reached Europe and is currently in it’s 60th year. “This year we’ve already cancelled cards from Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, and one collector in France,” Leopold, who has been postmaster since 2001, said. As of Dec. 1, they had taken in 1,500 pieces of mail to be re-posted with Bethlehem mark and cachet. The tradition began in 1947, when then Postmaster, Laura Anne Peyton noticed a flock of individuals coming from out of town to Bethlehem just to have their cards postmarked with the town’s name. Ms. Peyton then decided to make the postage mark more decorative by adding a cachet depicting the three wise men with the words “Christmas Greetings from Bethlehem” in red ink. The Peyton’s family upheld the tradition since then and cachet has gone unchanged. However, to commemorate it’s 60th anniversary and to honor the Peyton family’s service to the community, Leopold has added “since 1947” to the label. “Cecil Peyton passed away last year and I wanted to make sure that their 60-plus years of service to [Bethlehem] does not go unnoticed and that the label can always be traced back to their family,” Leopold said. While she can not be certain of the exact numbers, Leopold estimates that this tradition has reached thousands of people world wide. Including France, people from Italy, Germany and Canada have all used the Bethlehem name and red Cachet to send their holiday greetings. “Last year it was about 40,000,” she said. “I met one couple who picks a different Bethlehem every holiday season to visit. This year it was us.” The holiday season combined with the decorative cachet also helps the Post office financially, according to Leopold. “Many folks don’t realize that it’s a post office’s postage sales that keep an office in business,” Leopold said. “The cachet and postmark do not cost extra but we do appreciate customers’ stamp purchases in exchange for our services. However, we are happy to apply our cachet and postmark to all cards, even those that already have postage applied.” Leopold, along with her new assistant, Sonia Mudd, will work tirelessly through the holiday season as greeting cards continue to flood the post office in rapidly increasing numbers while Christmas approaches. Leopold has extended the closing time from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. beginning Dec. 8 through Dec. 21, and the two of them will hand stamp each and every card that arrives. “[Sonia] is going to get broken in this year,” Leopold said. Nevertheless, for Leopold who is in the holiday spirit, the extra work is well worth it. “For the folks around here, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without the postmark,” she said. “I love that I am able to carry on a tradition that means so much to so many people. Christmas is very special to me and since we start applying the postmark right after Thanksgiving, I get to celebrate it for a month instead of just a few days.” E-mail us about this article at news@hclocal.com.