Mailed From Bethlehem: The Sought-Out Postmark From A Small N.H. Town

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Bethlehem stamp (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)
Bethlehem stamp (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)

There’s a place in the White Mountains that people seek out simply to mail their Christmas cards.

It’s the little town of Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Since the 1960’s, the post office has postmarked "BETHLEHEM" on more than a million pieces of holiday mail. Customers can use an ink pad to stamp a winter Bethlehem scene — with hilltops and the North Star — all in green.

"Always use green for Christmas," postmaster Brian Thompson says, with a smile.

Brian Thompson, the postmaster in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)
Brian Thompson, postmaster for the bustling post office in the little town of Bethlehem, New Hampshire. (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)

This is the 24th Christmas Thompson has presided over what's likely the most popular place, around this time of year. People too far away to show up at the counter send him cards they want mailed out from Bethlehem.

"Because of the name of the town, they come from all over New England, and some people send us cards from all over the United States and around the world to get our special cache and cancellation," he says.
There's even a customer in the Middle East. And three generations of one family that come in every year.

Usually, post offices truck mail to a main delivery center to be postmarked, but Bethlehem's staffers have Postal Service permission to do the job themselves.

Thompson fires up a nearly 100 year old electric cancellation machine that his crew only uses this time of year. He keeps it oiled, clean, and freshly painted proper dull gray.

The Bethlehem stamp. (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)
Bethlehem's sought-after postmark. (Lisa Mullins/WBUR)

Between Thanksgiving and now, the old cancellation machine has processed more than 34,000 holiday cards. Last year, it reached a milestone, registering its one millionth piece of mail, sent up by a couple in North Carolina who wanted the Bethlehem postmark. Thompson snapped a photo of the occasion to show them.

Thompson said, "That's what the stamp is all about — and the cancellation. Because it's amazing how many people out there today still appreciate traditions like that."

This segment aired on December 24, 2018.

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Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.



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