Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Whose Holiday stamps?

These are the holiday stamps...” That should have been my clue. At the Post Office buying Christmas stamps for the cards we send each year, I was unprepared for the array spread before me. I had expected two choices - a religious design and a secular one - but there must have been five or six. A rather elegant one caught my eye; it had a simple, classic design with deep blue background, gold, stylized Christmas tree and the word “Greetings” across the bottom. Perfect. I probably bought fifty or so.

Designed by the Islamic calligrapher Mohammed Zakariya

 Back home I busied myself over the next week signing and writing notes on the cards, putting on the address and return address labels as well as the beautiful stamps. About halfway through the cards, I took a close look at the stamps - something didn’t look quite right. Under close scrutiny the gold Christmas tree didn’t really look like a tree, even a stylized one. And there was something else I hadn’t noticed - in the top left corner in large letters was the word EID. Huh?

Running out of stamps before the cards were finished, I returned to the Post Office. Again I asked for Christmas stamps and explained that I wasn’t sure what I got before and I’d like to know what they were. The busy postal worker quickly spread the choices out again, but when I pointed out the blue one, she had no idea what it was. She dug out a book that explained all of the stamps and flipped through page after page until she found the blue one. “Oh! That one is for an Islamic holiday!” “Oh great.” I said, for this was December, 2001 - shortly after 9/11. “Well, I’d like one for my holiday - Christmas.”These are the holiday stamps...” This time I chose a bright, cheerful one with colorful candles ablaze across it. At least the rest of our cards would bear a more appropriate stamp.

Jewish menorah design: Hannah Smotrich

It was not to be. I completed the cards and affixed the colorful stamps, only noticing after I was finished that those stamps bore the word HANUKKAH across the top - for a Jewish holiday.

After thirty-two years of issuing Christmas stamps, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new series of “Holiday Celebration” stamps in 1996. The first stamp in that series commemorated the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, which remembers the revolt led by Judah Maccabee against the government of Antiochus IV in 165 BC. The Kwanzaa holiday stamp first appeared in 1997. Kwanzaa is a non-religious African-American festival which synthesizes and reinvents traditional African "first fruits" celebrations.The Eid stamp, introduced in 2001, featured gold Arabic calligraphy on a lapis background and commemorated two of the most important Muslim festivals  - or eids - in the Islamic calendar: Eid ul-Fitr, marking the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. On these days, Muslims wish each other “Eid mubarak,” the phrase featured in Islamic calligraphy on that stamp (the golden “tree” I bought.) It translates literally as “blessed festival,” and can be paraphrased as “May your religious holiday be blessed. “

All of our Christmas cards that year were sent with love and good cheer and not one of them carried a Christmas stamp. If our family and friends noticed, they respectfully chose not to comment. Maybe they thought we were being unusually open-minded in that troubled year which so greatly needed international understanding. Or, perhaps they were as ignorant and distracted as I was and simply didn’t notice.

Artist: Ned Seidler
This year, I chose something different: beautiful brand-new Evergreens stamps that feature close-up views of foliage and cones of four different conifers:   ponderosa pine, eastern red cedar, blue spruce, and balsam fir. Because we live in a area profuse with evergreens, decorating with them at Christmas time is a family tradition for us. Besides, it was simply easier to select them... 

May your holiday be bright and blessed, filled with love and understanding, and may you...

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit -
just as you were called to one hope when you were called -
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:3 - 6

Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:11

Hanukkah Stamp 1996: U.S. Postal Service - first postage stamp issued for Hanukkah.

Kwanzaa stamp 1997: The first 32-cent stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service . 

Eid Stamp 2001: 34-cent postage stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service on the 1st of September, 2001.

Evergreen stamps 2010: Because decorating with evergreens during the winter holiday season is a popular and appealing tradition, the U.S. Postal Service joins in the winter celebrations by issuing these this year.


  1. Didn't Grandma Peg collect stamps and coins? You've probably got her books of them. It's kind of interesting to see the different things that get immortalized in stamps.

  2. She did, but it never really was my thing. After she died we took them to a stamp shop to see if any of them were worth much & it seems they weren't. I believe aunt B finally gave them away to some collectors, with your mom's & my OK. I really do find stamps interesting, tho, & that particular year was a bit of an embarassment to me - but also worth a laugh! Just shows what can slip by you when you're so busy & scattered in your thoughts - rather typical for this time of year, I think!


    actually they were the ONLY 'holiday' stamps they had at the post office! when the postal guy showed them to me...i said, well, they're not really christmasy...but they're very cool! i like how they look! they're wintery! i'll take 'em!!

  4. I always try and get an assortment of different holiday stamps to send out my christmas cards with - I love the celebration of the holiday - no matter which religion - or non-religion it is.