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Elves put stamp on holiday

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Sweden Post's new holiday stamps feature a blend of humor, tradition, and the postal debut of technology that may catch the attention of youngsters looking for gift ideas.

The five stamps, all nondenominated for first-class postage and issued early in November, depict elves playing leapfrog, mailing letters, riding old-fashioned snow scooters and hauling Christmas trees. In a wry touch, the fifth stamp shows a modern elf clutching a sack of gifts and chatting on a cell phone.

Many postal agencies have been including lighthearted themes in holiday designs, and some even are eschewing the solemn religious motifs.

Royal Post of Britain also opted for the secular theme. Its five commemoratives, issued in early November, show a cartoonlike Santa Claus battling the temperamental weather while delivering gifts during his Christmas Eve shift. Five stamps show Father Christmas, as Santa is known in Britain, and Santa braving rain, wind, hail, fog - with a flashlight - and the sun on values of 28, 21, 40, 57 and 68 pence and 1.12 pounds.

Australia Post, on the other hand, decided to combine the traditional Christmas and worldly themes to suggest the religious and secular celebration of the holiday season. Three stamps issued in November depict the familiar Nativity scenes of the Madonna and Child (45 cents), the angel appearing to the shepherds (50 cents), and the three Wise Men ($1). The religious characters share several intricate secular symbols that resemble colorful snowflakes.

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