JOY, Ill. — It's the month of holiday traditions, and one tradition in Joy, Illinois is known about all over the world.
For more than 25 years, the post office has hand stamped thousands of cards each December with a special holiday postmark. This year, it was designed by a rural mail carrier, and depicts a sledding snowman.
"I just didn't think anything like this existed until I started working the Postal Service," said postal clerk Vickie Fitchner.
In 1995 the postmaster at the time approached art teacher Robert Begueline and asked him to design a special holiday postmark.
"I just got a brand new Macintosh with a Wacom digital tablet, and I did it on my computer," Begueline said. "I used a software that I had purchased that was for doing art on the computer."
The following years, his students designed the stamp, and people were able to vote on which one would be chosen.
"Every year the kids would get all excited about doing it," he said. "We'd spend a couple of classroom hours doing it and then a lot of them would do it on their own at home. And so we kind of just started Christmas that way."
It's a tradition that's grown outside of just Joy.
"I did 8,400 cards last year," said postal clerk Vickie Fitchner. "It makes my four fingers tired."
In 2020, the Joy post office sent cards to all 50 states and 21 international countries, including Australia, Brazil, Switzerland and Taiwan.
Close to 400 letters arrive each day to be stamped. In the first six days of December 2021, Fitchner said she thinks she's stamped around 2,000 cards already. They've been sent to all but seven states.
"Seeing where the cards are coming from and going to. A lot of countries last year that I just didn't have a clue that they were going to them all over the world," Fitchner said.
She explained that many people will collect the stamps, while others will bring their Christmas cards to be sent with the special stamp.
"A lot of them will put them in a large manila envelope, already have them with a stamp on them addressed to who they want to send it to," she said. "Then we open the envelope and we stamp every one of them and send them out to who they addressed them to."
This year, she even got a letter from a fourth grader in Kansas.
It's also something people eagerly await, especially after it was cancelled in 2013.
"Normally I try to have the picture already done and posted so everybody knows what it's gonna look like," Fitchner said. "But when I didn't have it posted, they were just a little scared that we weren't gonna have one."
The stamp is updated each day to have the date on it, so sometimes people will want letters to be specifically stamped on Dec. 25, according to Fitchner.
"It's really unique I guess you'd say that we were able to do this," Begueline said.
You can send your cards to be stamped with the holiday postmark to: Holiday Station, PO Box 9998, Joy, IL 61260
They must be already addressed and stamped. The last day to get the holiday postmark is Dec. 31.