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Remembering Christmas Valley’s Christmas stamp

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Photo by Lee Juillerat Rollie Smith, the postmaster at the time, and other post office staff signed a hand-canceled letter.
Photo by Lee Juillerat A handout at the 1981 event features the image on the Christmas Valley stamp.
Photo by Lee Juillerat A hand-canceled letter bearing the Christmas Valley stamp.
Photo by Lee Juillerat Christmas Valley stores sold a cornucopia of “first day” souvenirs — bottle openers, cups, piggy banks, stuffed teddy bears and T-shirts with the Teddy Bear logo.

Forty years ago, Christmas came to Christmas Valley.

Because of its name, the rural northern Lake County community of Christmas Valley was selected as the community for the first day of issue for the 1981 Christmas stamp.

The stamp, a stuffed Teddy Bear sitting on a sleigh, was unveiled during ceremonies Oct. 28, 1981, attended by more than 300 people. Despite a downpour of rain and hail along with wind and chilly temperatures, the cheery spirits of the attendees were not dampened.

“The Teddy Bear stamp is colorful and lighthearted and conveys the joyful anticipation felt by millions of children and their parents each year as Christmas approaches,” Michael Coughlin, Regional Postmaster General said during the gathering. He termed Christmas Valley as “tailor-made as the site for the first-day cancellation because the name on the hand-stamp will add a special seasonal flavor to the many first-day covers.”

The design featured a yellow Teddy Bear with a red bow around his neck, sitting on a brown sleigh, holding a white package with a red ribbon. The stamp had no postage value because as they were being prepared for printing, the cost of a first-class postage rose from 18 to 20 cents. According to the Postal Service, 792,600,000 Teddy Bear stamps were printed. In another trivia note, a mint condition Teddy Bear stamp is reportedly valued at 97 cents.

Following the Christmas Valley ceremonies, Postal Service employees sold stamps and did first-day cancellations on cachet envelopes, while stores sold a cornucopia of “first day” souvenirs — bottle openers, cups, piggy banks, stuffed teddy bears and T-shirts with the Teddy Bear logo.

At the gathering, Frank Thomas, the Postal Service’s philatelist program specialist, said stamps would be hand-canceled on everything from cachet envelopes and postcards to foreheads, noting, “If they (people who buy stamps) put stamps on their foreheads, we’ll cancel them.”

An often-asked question is how did Christmas Valley get its name.

Christmas Valley probably isn’t the most descriptive name for the community. Located 116 miles north of Lakeview, 135 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, and 100 miles southeast of Bend, Christmas Valley isn’t a place where visitors are likely to see Santa Claus or his reindeer. It is, however, the commercial center for a region that includes the nearby communities of Silver Lake and Fort Rock.

Located in Eastern Oregon’s high desert, much of its former sagebrush land has been replaced with acres of alfalfa in the 50-mile-long, 30-mile-wide valley. At an elevation of 4,350 feet and with an annual precipitation of only 8 to 10 inches, the region largely relies on underground aquifers for irrigation. The region also benefits economically from tourism at the several geologically unique sites, including the Sand Dunes, Lost Forest and Crack-in-the-Ground.

So, given its location and climate, why the name Christmas Valley?

One account says the name stems from a mapping error. In 1843, when John C. Fremont was in the area, his map and notes designated present-day Hart Lake as Christmas Lake, where he and his group spent Christmas day. Later maps from the 1860s and on seem to have moved the Christmas Lake name from the Warner Valley to its present site.

The town, which was established in the early 1960s when Penn-Phillips developed 70,000 acres of desert, was named after the lake. Although much of its development stems from the Penn-Phillips land scheme, the region had been homesteaded in the early 1900s. The lack of water caused most homesteaders to fail and move because many were unable to pay their taxes. The community, however, has experienced some growth in recent years and is the site for a new Dollar General store.

Although no celebrations are planned to remember the 40th anniversary of the Christmas stamp that debuted in Christmas Valley, the community held its annual Christmas Valley Light Parade Saturday, Dec. 11.

It wasn’t expected be a Teddy Bear stampede, but a time for the community to celebrate its name and brief moment in history.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.