The Postal Service booth did a brisk business Saturday among the street food stalls, vendors and carnival rides that filled Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park during the city’s popular Lunar New Year Festival.
“First day of issue! Lunar New Year stamps, get ’em right here,” said Rob Lindbloom, a local post office official who waded into the crowd holding a sheet of new postage stamps high above his head. “Commemorate the Year of the Rat!”
The Year of the Rat stamp is the first in a new series the Postal Service is launching to celebrate Lunar New Year, which occurs each year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The rat is the first animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, which restarts on Jan. 25 with the Lunar New Year.
The U.S. Postal Service on Saturday formally unveiled the stamp with a phalanx of local officials and sponsors at the opening ceremony of the two-day festival. It marks the third time the Postal Service has launched Lunar New Year stamps, having released a series of them from 1992 to 2005 and again from 2008 to 2019.
William Chan, himself a postal clerk who lives in Pomona, was in a cheerful mood as he bought some of the new stamps in anticipation of a special occasion later this month, when he will celebrate his 64th birthday, on the day the Year of the Rat begins.
“I’m going to keep them, because I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait before that happens again,” he said. “For me, it’s a special year. It’s a double celebration.”
Some die-hard collectors showed up at the Postal Service booth first thing in the morning Saturday while workers were still setting up their display of stamps, envelopes, mugs and other commemorative items tied to the Chinese zodiac, Lindbloom said. Some even flew in from out of state just to get the new stamp on the first day it was issued, he said.
“For the rest of the people, it’s just a cool new stamp,” he said. “Especially if it’s their year.”
“We’re starting it again because they’ve proved to be extremely popular over the years,” said Luke Grossmann, senior vice president of finance and strategy for the U.S. Postal Service, during the dedication ceremony for the new stamp. “We are very proud of their beautiful and intricate designs.”
The stamp depicts a stylized blue-colored rat mask similar to those used in dragon dances performed during Lunar New Year parades. It has small protruding teeth and is adorned with symbols from the Chinese zodiac.
On its forehead is a circle representing the new moon on which the Lunar New Year begins. Between its ears is a resplendent golden crown highlighting the rat’s importance as the first of the 12 animal signs in the Chinese zodiac.
According to legend, the animals of the Chinese zodiac swam across a river in a race to determine their order in the cycle. The rat rode on the ox, then jumped ahead at the last moment to cross the finish line first. For that reason, people born in the Year of the Rat are said to be clever, self-aware and resourceful.
Gordon Lo of Monterey Park, born in 1954 during the Year of the Horse, bought some of the new stamps, saying he thinks he will hold onto them as collectibles, or perhaps as gifts for his grandchildren.
“Because it’s finally a new decade,” he said. “It’s 2020.”