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CELEBRATING THE LUNAR NEW YEAR

For the last time, according to the U.S. Postal service, there will be Chinese Lunar New Year's stamps to lead off the schedule for 2005. So, look for these colorful stamps come January.

The Lunar New Year is celebrated by people of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tibetan and Mongolian heritage. In observance of this holiday, the USPS issued the first of 12 stamps in its award-winning Lunar New Year series in 1992. In succeeding years, additional stamps were issued until all 12 animals associated with the Lunar calendar were represented.

In chronological order, the stamps in the series marked the Year of the Rooster, Dog, Boar, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram and Monkey. People born in the year of a particular animal are said to share the characteristics of that animal.

Also called the Spring Festival, the traditional Chinese New Year is a time of renewed hope for a prosperous future. The 12 colorful stamps are gathered together for one stunning souvenir sheet in January.

When the Postal Service needed a designer for its Year of the Rooster stamp in 1992, award-winning graphic artist Clarence Lee of Honolulu was the clear choice. When the stamps proved to be extremely popular, Lee was asked to design all the subsequent Lunar New Year stamps.

Lee announced that using paper-cut designs was a natural choice for this stamps series. "Through our research, we discovered that the art of paper-cutting images had a long tradition in China," he explained. "Our design was an attempt to respect and recognize the cultural heritage of this old art form," he concluded.

New Year's Eve is celebrated by the Chinese with costumes, parades and revelry. A dragon, sometimes more than 100 feet long and in many colors, is paraded through the streets to the sounds of pounding drums and crashing symbols.

The 2004 stamps featured the Monkey while 2005 will see the Rooster honored as first in line of the 12 animals.

The souvenir sheet kicking off the 2005 program will have its colorful characters inscribed (in translation) as "Happy New Year." The same greeting appears in English at the top of the sheet.

First day covers will be provided by the USPS. Watch for announcements as to the locations and dates for ordering. When in doubt, you may phone the Stamp Fulfillment Services, toll free, at 1-800-STAMP-24.