“Virgin and Child,” a stamp based on an oil painting from the first half of the 16th century by an unidentified Florentine artist, designed by Art Director Greg Breeding (image courtesy USPS)

Though Christmas is incontrovertibly a Christian holiday, many people who celebrate it associate it with more secular things, like snow falling, gingerbread, and reindeer. Even those who buy into the story of Saint Nicholas tend more toward the Coca-Cola version of Santa Claus than his Greek Orthodox roots.

While some stamps issued by the United States Postal Service (USPS) feature more secular subjects like wreaths, Santa Claus, holiday windows, and popular children’s entertainment, in general, the agency makes an effort to represent many religious practices and holidays, issuing stamps that commemorate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the Chinese Lunar New Year. Unveiled today during a ceremony at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), this year’s Christmas stamp is titled “Virgin and Child” and features the titular subject rendered as an oil-on-panel painting from the first half of the 16th century, attributed to an unidentified Florentine artist. The original painting is in the Robert Dawson Evans Collection at the MFA.

“I am honored to represent the Postal Service as we dedicate a Christmas stamp that features one of the most revered images in the world — the Virgin Mary holding her infant child, Jesus,” said US Postal Service Organization Development Vice President Jenny Utterback in a press statement from the USPS. “It’s a beautiful piece of art, with particular meaning this time of year.”

The agency has released religion-themed stamps since the 1960s, to some criticism from those who think the government entity should keep its distance from the topic of religion. Perhaps it raises eyebrows for some that this focus on Christianity’s iconic mother and child comes during a year when fundamentalist Christian political agendas have overturned the basic legal right to choose when to have a child.

Whatever message you hope to send in the coming holiday season, there is probably a stamp that can help convey it visually while delivering it to the doorstep of its intended recipient. I’ll be sticking with “Otters in Snow,” because I think there really otter be separation between church and state, every day of the year.

Editor’s Note, 9/23/22 10:28am EDT: This article has been corrected to include more context about the long history of religion-themed USPS holiday stamps.

Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...