They start arriving in the spring and summer, long before the first snowflakes fall and malls switch to Christmas music.
It might sound odd to think of Christmas cards in March or July, but the tiny post office in this community that shares a name with a certain crimson-nosed ungulate embraces the holiday. Tens of thousands of cards and letters flow through the Rudolph post office each year because of the unique cancellation stamp featuring a tiny drawing of the famous reindeer.
And this year, business is even more brisk than usual after the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative set of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer forever stamps to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the popular television show.
Rudolph — population 436 — was even chosen for the first day of sale ceremony of the Christmas stamps featuring the TV characters.
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“We get boxes of cards from all over the world requesting the cancellation,” said Becky Trzebiatowski, who has been Rudolph postmaster since 2008. “I’m not surprised now, but I was initially.”
On the second Saturday of December, the central Wisconsin community just west of Stevens Point schedules a Country Christmas event with live reindeer, music, dog sled pulling, food, a parade and fireworks.
That was the day — Dec. 13 this year — when Trzebiatowski and a corps of workers hand-stamped each letter and card with the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer postmark.
Many people send in their cards and letters before time with notes asking Trzebiatowski to cancel them on Dec. 13. They range from stamp collectors to folks who like the added bit of holiday on their Christmas card envelopes.
Typically they’re sent in boxes or large envelopes to the Rudolph postmaster, and Trzebiatowski keeps them until Dec. 13, when they’re canceled with the special postmark.
For those who get their cards in after Dec. 13, Trzebiatowski will continue to use the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer cancellation stamp through Christmas.
While a normal day’s business at the Rudolph post office is one to two long trays of letters and cards, on the second Saturday of December the volume balloons to 18 to 20 trays, or the equivalent of about 10,000 pieces of mail.
This year there were also numerous collectors seeking the first day of sale cancellation stamp. On one morning, Trzebiatowski pulled out a box of letters from stamp collectors who included envelopes to be stamped and returned to them.
The letters came from New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, California, Texas, Ohio and the country of Belgium. Some include glassine envelopes to prevent damage on the return trip and notes thanking Trzebiatowski.
Established in 1856, Rudolph is named after the first child born in the area, and not Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which first appeared in a 1939 booklet published by Montgomery Ward.
The Rudolph decorative postmark has been a tradition since 1945, when the postmaster created it as a Girl Scout project. Twelve years ago the town ratcheted things up a notch by starting the annual Country Christmas celebration.
Each spring schoolchildren in Rudolph enter their designs for the Christmas cancellation stamp in a contest. This year’s winning design features a side view of Rudolph wearing a Santa hat with holes for his antlers and a scarf with “2014.”
The postmark is different from a stamp showing a prancing Rudolph and “Rudolph, Wisconsin – Home of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that’s provided on tables inside the post office for anyone to stamp on letters and packages.
Rachael Sackmann lives four blocks from a post office in Stevens Point, but she packed up her 90 Christmas cards plus a few bills last week to travel 11 miles to Rudolph. Sitting at a table in the post office lobby, she used the prancing Rudolph stamp with red ink to decorate the envelopes.
“I’ve been coming out here for years. I mail out 90 cards each year. I even brought my electric bill,” said Sackmann, who joked, “I’ve got to put the electric company in the (holiday) mood.”
Through Dec. 23 the Rudolph post office is open through the lunch hour — normally it closes from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — to handle the foot traffic streaming through the tiny lobby with a Rudolph- and reindeer-festooned tree.
“It is a lot of fun. I love my job — I get smiles all day long,” Trzebiatowski said.