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Religious stamps not outlawed after all

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The annual brouhaha over whether it's Christmas or "the holidays" spilled over into the U.S. Postal Service this week, with the Internet and public conversation awash with horror that no new religiously themed stamp was printed for the 2005 season.

Since 1966, the Postal Service has issued a Christmas stamp that includes the Madonna and Christ child, listed as "traditional" stamps, using classic works of art. Last year's reproduced a painting by 15th-century Italian artist Lorenzo Monaco. The religious stamp usually is accompanied by a separate printing of nonreligious Christmas stamps. This year's theme: Christmas cookies.

But patrons looking for a new religiously themed stamp this year are getting leftover Madonna printings from last year, touching off a wave of reports that the Postal Service was planning to discontinue religiously themed Christmas stamps.

"It's absolutely not true," said Diana Svoboda, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh district. Next year's printing will include a new Madonna and the price stamped over her left shoulder will explain why a new one wasn't printed this year: Rates are going up to 39 cents per letter Jan. 8.

"We had an overabundance of religiously based stamps from last year," she said. The Postal Service needed to sell its overstock of Madonna stamps and didn't want a fresh crop of outdated stamps sitting in the drawers for next year.

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