A holiday tradition is history for now in Joy, Illinois. After hand stamping thousands of Christmas cards over nearly 30 years, the post office must cancel the service due to limited hours and tight funding.
The holiday season always comes alive in Joy. In this Mercer County village of some 400 folks, even its name, Joy, feels like Christmas each day.
"Everybody's joyful around here," recalled a resident two years ago.
"I think it's because we're very friendly people," added another. "Very, very friendly people. Small town friendly."
Inside the friendly post office, there was always plenty of warmth. This time of year, employees were stamping holiday cheer by hand with a special cancellation.
"Some of the customers have kept a stamp from every year," said postal worker Ann Comer.
Designed since 1985 by local students and the community, each year it attracted more than 12,000 cards from all over the world.
"I've got one from Germany," said Susan Schroeder in 2011. "This guy sent one from France."
But sadly, Joy's holiday postmark got cancelled itself. It's a victim of budget cuts and reduced hours at the Joy Post Office.
Cards already received this year must be returned to the senders.
"It breaks my heart," said Joy resident Heather Adams, who works at nearby Boon Docks Restaurant. "I have customers that come every year that I've seen, so I'm a little disappointed."
On this frigid Wednesday in December, workers are busy sorting mail and packages for delivery. But the box of past holiday stamps will just gather dust.
"Some of the postmasters that had been here would say their hand hurt from doing so many stamps," Comer said.
Since the post office is open limited hours, there's just no time to hand-cancel thousands of cards in addition to daily work.
It's something that became a tradition from far away and close to home.
"They may send bills the same day, but they wanted those Christmas cards postmarked with the Joy stamp," Comer recalled.
While the postmark became Joy's signature trademark over the years, this stamping seems to be over for now. Customers and staffers are hopeful that it can be restored in coming years.
"It's just kind of fun," Adams said. "You're in Joy. It's from Joy. It's Christmas time. It just made it a little more special."
A holiday imprint through the seasons that's simply stamped out in Joy.