Saturday after Thanksgiving is the traditional day to purchase stamps for my annual Christmas card mailing, a personal shopping routine I inaugurated over 40 years ago for reasons I don’t remember. Maybe it’s because I was born and have lived in subtropical Miami for so long, it is only when the temperature drops below 80 degrees (in late November) that I can manage even to think of the oncoming, premi√?∆? ¬®re winter holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ.
So, shortly before noon on that most recent post-turkey day, I sauntered into a neighborhood “U.S. Postal Store,” a jazzy boutique version of the U.S. Post Office created under the stylish, triangulating Clinton Administration, and headed for the stamps-only section. I quickly found a packed wall of display racks offering a panoply of first-class postage devoted to the various elements of the year-end holiday season, specifically:
- 1) Christmas, featuring colorful, contemporary designs of Santa Claus with an array of inanimate, secular Yule symbols;
2) Kwanzaa, with not just one but two stamps promoting a totally fabricated “harvest holiday” for African-Americans, a self-congratulatory event cooked up by a 1960s Black Power California university professor who revered U.S. politics more than world history;
3) Hanukkah, the ancient Jewish festival that marks the rededication of the temple wrested from the savage control of Syria’s King Antiochus IV; and
4) Eid (Arabic for “festival”), a two-part, post-Ramadan feasting period for Muslims.
Beholding such philatelic diversity in a simple American post office truly is a multicultural moment that a few weeks earlier would have reduced John Kerry to tears of joy.
Something, however, was missing. “Where,” I asked the attending postal clerk, “are the traditional Madonna & Child stamps?” (Postal authorities for years have issued both nonreligious and religious commemorative stamps for this holiday season, to satisfy equally those citizens who groove exclusively on office-partying and those who quaintly still revere the birth of Christ.)
“Those stamps,” said the clerk with an odd, ecumenical smile, are here in this drawer, “under the counter.” She slowly pulled open the discreet trove and withdrew samples of the Virgin Mary and her Baby Jesus for my fascination, as if they were products of an eccentric artist with copious red body hair who works at night, alone in the P.O. attic.
“Wait a minute,” I demanded. “Why are the only Christmas stamps that actually depict the meaning of Christmas being hidden from your customers and treated like pornography, stashed under the counter?”
She ignored my question, so I asked, eventually, another: “If you want to emphasize Kwanzaa stamps, that’s OK with me. If you want to display Hanukkah stamps, that’s also OK. But why would you be hiding Christian Christmas stamps while displaying Muslim stamps with bilingual Arabic and Roman script proclaiming ‘EID,’ whatever that is?”
“Well,” declared the slightly omniscient postal clerk,” ‘E.I.D.’is the Arabic name for the way Muslims celebrate Christmas.”
To which I snapped: “Madam, the only way that Muslims in many parts of the world ‘celebrate’ Christmas is to kill a few Christians. What in Hell are you talking about?”
As the civil servant continued to smile nonconfrontationally in silence, I asked for 160 Madonna & Child stamps, counted my change, and, on my way out the front door, also counted our nation’s blessings that the U.S. Postal Service does not yet run America.