Christmas is marked this year on stamps with more innovative and contemporary approaches and fewer of the Old Masters and familiar symbols of the season.
The Channel Island of Guernsey has issued a sheetlet of 12 stamps, three of which depict the Three Kings bringing their gifts of myrrh, gold and frankincense to the infant Jesus.
The remaining nine picture Santa Claus and his equivalents from other countries.
Among them are Sinterklass, who distributes gifts to Dutch children, and the German Christkind, an angel with gold wings who rings a silver bell to announce the delivery of her gifts. She is shown with a decorated Christmas tree, a custom that originated in Germany.
The stamp for France depicts a shepherd with a ram pulling a cart that holds a lamb, a gift for Jesus. Others among the nine are the Italian witch La Behana, who is said to have been inhospitable to the Three Kings and therefore must leave a gift for Jesus at every house in case he is there, and the Russian Baboushka, whose story is similar.
Canada has issued three gaily colored stamps in honor of the annual Santa Claus Parade in Toronto. The artist has viewed the parade through the eyes of a child and simulated children's drawings. The four-color issue consists of a 34-cent for domestic mail, a 39-cent for mail to the United States and a 68-cent for other foreign destinations.
Canada, incidentally, is giving a 2-cent discount for Christmas cards sent within the country. This 32-cent stamp also showed the Santa Claus Parade. There are plans for a 5-cent discount next year.
Florals on Christmas stamps are not uncommon, but wild cucumbers might be unique. The African nation of Botswana is depicting wild cucumbers in a set of four, and doing so in the yule spirit. The cucum- bers are an important food in that country.
Pantomime is the theme of Britain's Christmas issue, which offers a 1-pence discount for holiday greeting cards. Five stamps depict well-known pantomime characters, done in pastel sketches amid a glitter of gold and silver stars. The characters are the Dame, a man dressed as a woman; the Principal Boy, a woman dressed as a man; and a Good Fairy, a Genie and a Cat.
Impressionistic scenes of snow on tree branches and snowflakes appear on a pair of Christmas stamps from Iceland. Two Finnish stamps use a carved bird with red tulips and a wooden cross with hyacinths to symbolize Christmas, while the Cocos (Keeling) Islands used branches of a Christmas tree. Three from Liechtenstein pictured the vessels containing myrrh, frankincense and gold.
Four native mothers with newly born babies appear on a set of four from Palau, a Pacific trust territory administered by the United States. The drawings are the work of a contemporary artist. Paintings by a Bahamian artist show current observances of the holiday.
Two se tenant stamps from Nauru are joined to make a Pacific Nativity scene, a mother holding an infant on a beach. A modern rendition of the Nativity story appears on four from Norfolk Island. Jamaica's yule issue of four offers paintings by local artists.
The more traditional Old Masters, among them Raphael, Botticelli, Bosch, Van Dyck, Murillo and David, appear on issues from the Cook Islands, Penrhyn, Ireland, Pitcairn Island, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Central Africa, Congo People's Republic, Malawi and Mali.
Medieval church paintings and illuminated illustrations on manuscripts are used on a set of four from Sweden, a pair from Spain and set of three from Cyprus. A pair from Sri Lanka show religious statues in a church. Two from Portugal picture illuminations from a 12th-century liturgical calendar and prayerbook.
The Marshall Islands, the third U.S. trust territory in the Pacific, observes Christmas with four stamps that illustrate the 1856 arrival of the first missionary ship and events related to its coming.
The remote Atlantic island of St. Helena continues its annual practice of depicting events in the life of the saint whose name it bears on four yule stamps.
Monaco put out a single stamp showing a tree decorated with ornaments and gifts, while Norway devoted a pair of stamps to Christmas wreaths.
Walt Disney Productions has designed a set of yule stamps for Belize showing characters from all parts of the world depicted in the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland.