Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

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Christmas Seal Campaign: the Fight Against Tuberculosis

A small paper stamp sold at Christmas brought in enough money to fund buildings and research, and help those with lung disease, now through the Canadian Lung Association

Who would have thought that a stamp would build a hospital? Or that the simple stamp would provide x-rays or medical tests? A postman in Denmark thought it would.

First Danish Christmas Seal, 1904

First Danish Christmas Seal, 1904

Einar Holboell was processing the mail in December 1903 when he came upon an idea to help those in dire need. He saw that “large sums of money could be donated without it costing anyone very much,” noted the Canadian Lung Association site at The inspired Holboell set plans in motion for Christmas Seals in the 1904 Christmas season, with great success.

Danish postmaster who gave life to the Christmas Seal Campaign

Danish postmaster who gave life to the Christmas Seal Campaign, Einar Holboell

Tuberculosis became the beneficiary of the fundraising campaigns. Tuberculosis is a life-threatening lung infection that may also spread throughout the body, attacking major organs. The disease has troubled humans for thousands of years.

The Christmas Seals campaigns were so successful that after two years, there was enough money to start building two sanatoriums for tuberculosis patients. At the time, infectious tuberculosis was rapidly transmitting, causing more deaths than “wars or famines” in Europe. By 1907, the Christmas Seal Campaign itself was spreading, making its way to the United States via the American Red Cross. The first American Christmas Seals stamp featured a classic wreath of holly in bright red. A year later, Canadians were purchasing their own fundraising stamps to affix to Christmas cards and letters.

A newspaper, the Toronto Globe, helped boost stamp sales by adding a daily story of news about Christmas Seals, surrounded by a festive holly border. The column told positive stories of stamp fundraising across the country. The Toronto campaign, said, raised the huge amount of $6,114.25. The money collected in Canada was at first used to build hospitals, then for tuberculosis prevention; the campaigns also raised awareness of the disease and its treatment. Tuberculin tests and x-rays provided through Christmas Seal funding caught the disease early and prevented the mass spread of the appalling disease.

Tuberculosis is still considered a global pandemic, according to, but most cases can now be treated with success.

The Canadian Tuberculosis Association changed its name in 1977 to the Canadian Lung Association. The Association’s focus was widened to include “all the things that make breathing difficult for so many – lung diseases, air pollution and cigarette smoking.” Throughout the decades, Christmas Seals have been designed by talented artists who created delightful wintry scenes of the Christmas season. Their charming appearance alone is enough to attract purchasers. The money raised through Christmas Seals is used for prevention and community programs.

Colourful Christmas Seal from 1935

Colourful Christmas Seal from 1935

Imagine. All of that good care through the purchase of a small paper stamp.

The 2007 Christmas Seal offer was a departure from the stamps. “Holiday Ice” was a limited edition full-sized print of an oil painting by artist Shirley Deaville of Toronto. A wintry game of shinny on a frozen pond was the theme of the artwork. See the Lung Association page for more information.

This article first appeared on in 2007.  Copyright Susanna McLeod


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