On a cold night in December, 1903, a postal worker in Copenhagen saw two ragged children huddled against the storm. Upon seeing them, it occurred to Einar Holboell that asking people to buy an extra stamp and put it on all the Christmas cards and parcels he’d been sorting might bring in enough money to do something to help such waifs. The Postmaster and the King of Denmark (Christian IX) went for the idea, and the next Christmas a special Christmas stamp, or ‘seal’, was issued featuring the king’s late wife, Queen Louise. The seals cost 2 oere (about a quarter of a cent each) and were so popular that four million were sold. Within two years enough money had been raised to start building hospitals for sick children, specifically, children with tuberculosis, the type of children the organizers considered to be most at risk. The first TB sanatorium, the Christmas Seal Sanatorium, opened in Kolding in 1911.
Christmas seals did not remain confined to Denmark, however. Norway and Sweden quickly embraced the idea, as did forty other countries, and by 1907, Christmas seals had caught on in North America, too. Today they are a standard addition to Christmas mail, and funds still go to helping those affected by tuberculosis.
An old Boy’s Life comic strip version of the history of Christmas seals can be found at: http://books.google.ca/books?id=DdM4DfJ3mu8C&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=christmas+stamp+einar+holboell&source=bl&ots=F35TXEARhZ&sig=H8DubwlbXTzRo8708SlceFOCdIc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=voVqVOC0OtKzoQSguIGIBQ&ved=0CFsQ6AEwCw#v=onepage&q=christmas%20stamp%20einar%20holboell&f=false