Tale of the true spirit of Christmas
Christmas seals
Christmas Seals® Images from christmasseals.org

Christmas is the world’s greatest paradox. It is absolute humility harboring a glorious secret, the hinge of human history fastened to a barn door in the little town of Bethlehem. Each Christmas season kindles the genial flame of charity in one’s heart, especially for children. There is never a better time to be a child, Charles Dickens remarked, because “its mighty Founder was a child himself.” 

The Christmas season is infectious and inspirational. It fosters the belief that humble beginnings can produce far-reaching and beneficial results. And so it was the case in 1903 in the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark. A postal clerk by the name of Einar Holbøll was sorting a huge pile of Christmas mail. As the story goes — and it is too good not to be true — he took a break from his work and looked out the window. He spotted a young girl and a young boy dressed in rags who were slowly trudging through the snowy weather. The benevolent clerk was moved by what he saw and wondered what could be done for such children. 

He thought of making special Christmas stamps available that could be placed on any piece of mail. The stamps would be inexpensive. If people could purchase these stamps and affix them to their mail, the revenue collected from the sale of the stamps could be donated to help poor children. Holbøll secured the approval of the Postmaster and the King of Denmark, Christian IX. In the year 1904, the world’s first Christmas Seal was issued. 

Stamping out tuberculosis

During the first six years of sales, enough funds were raised to build the Christmas Seal Sanatorium in Kolding, Denmark. That same year, the Danish National Association to Combat Tuberculosis took over the administration. Organizers decided that funds from the Christmas Seal campaigns should help children suffering from tuberculosis. Revenue from the seals was sufficient to build a second hospital in Denmark for these children. Christmas Seals ultimately spread to every major country in Europe and were adopted in North and South America, Africa and Australia.  

Most of these seals have displayed the red double-barred cross of Lorraine (a region in eastern France). The Lorraine cross was carried to the Crusades by the original Knights Templar, granted to them for their use by the patriarch of Jerusalem. In the Church, the equal-armed Lorraine cross denotes the office of cardinal. 

Sales from the Christmas Seals went a long way toward “stamping out” tuberculosis in children. It was the inauguration of a movement to get ordinary citizens to take part in fighting tuberculosis, the leading cause of death. The benevolent and ingenious postal clerk was decorated by the kings of Sweden and Italy. Einar Holbøll is now known as the “Father of the Christmas Seal.” 

Denmark’s most notable philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, warned about a bogus form of love that looked for perfection in people. In his most humanitarian book, “Works of Love,” he remarked, “It is commonly thought that love is admiration’s open-eye, which seeks excellency and perfection. This is why men complain that they seek in vain.”  

Einar Holbøll, true to the Christmas spirit, felt love for the two waifs he saw through his post office window. With imagination and perseverance, he put his love to work, and innumerable children throughout the world have become beneficiaries of that love. Christmas, children and charity will always remain a loving and creative unity. 

Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International, a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.