Christmas is the time when most of the year's semipostals -- stamps with a postage charge and a surcharge to help people in need -- are issued. Funds raised by the surcharge go to aid the old, infirm and handicapped, troubled youths, the homeless and jobless and a variety of others.
Semipostals go back to the 1890s, but the scattering of pioneer issues virtually died out when Christmas Seals came along in the early 1900s. The semipostals got a new lease on life during World War I, when many countries put out stamps with a surcharge for helping the Red Cross, for war relief and for widows and orphans. Since 1920,semipostals have been widely used for all kinds of charities.
The Swiss, who have been issuing annual semipostals since 1913, the longest running charity issue, continue the theme of the child this year, which began in 1983.
This year's issue taps four of the most popular and cherished tales from the more than 200 collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the first half of the last century. The stamps picture moments from "Hansel and Gretel," "Snow White," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Cinderella."
The 35 centimes + 15 centimes stamp pictures the famished Hansel and Gretel being invited to a house of bread and cake by a witch who intends to eat them. The 50c + 20c shows Snow White, cast out by her stepmother, with the Seven Dwarfs. On the 80c + 40c is the wolf, having eaten her grandmother, in bed greeting Little Red Riding Hood. The 90c + 40c pictures the climactic moment when the Prince finds the slipper fits Cinderella.
Revenue from the surcharge is divided up 90 percent to the Pro Juventute Foundation, which cares for orphans and handicapped youngsters, and 10 percent for national youth-welfare work.
German "Wohlfartmarken" (welfare stamps) have been put out since 1922. This year's stamps, four from West Germany and four from West Berlin, depict flowers, berries, birds and insects from the ornamental borders of a medieval prayer book. The surcharge supports work for the needy.
The Germans also used semipostals for the Christmas stamps. An 80pfennig + 40pfennig from West Germany depicts the "Birth of Christ" from the High Altar of Freiburg Cathedral. A 50pf + 40pf for use in West Berlin depicts "Worship of the Kings" from the cathedral's Epiphany Altar. Both are by Hans Baldung-Grien and mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of the artist, best known for his woodcuts.
Belgium has also used a semipostal for its yuletide issue, picturing a medieval miniature from the "Book of Hours."
Luxembourg's annual Caritas semipostals to raise funds for social work continue a series devoted to children, appearing on four stamps. A fifth is also a Christmas stamp, with an alabaster Nativity sculpture, "Adoration of the Magi," from the state museum. The other four, also linked to International Youth Year, depict Diligence, a girl engrossed in a drawing; Friendship, two youngsters sharing a task; Personality, a child identifying with his favorite characters, and Embarrassment, a young girl suffused in blushes.
The Netherlands continues its youth semipostals with a quartet devoted to the "Child and Traffic" with a slogan, "Think of Me." The opening stamp shows an ignition key ring with aframed photo of a child. The other three show different traffic warnings, such as children crossing. All are shaped like actual traffic signs.