US Postal Service Eid stamp

We stopped at the post office on the way home from taiji to mail off our Christmas gifts, and Jackie wanted to buy some stamps as well. The clerk pointed us toward the display of the currently available stamps, pointing out that the Christmas-themed stamps were in the lower left.

Jackie peered at the stamps, her hand hovering over the ones she was looking at, and when her hand strayed away from the Christmas stamps to a spot over the Eid stamps just to the right, the postal clerk said, “You wouldn’t want those.”

My first impulse was to laugh out loud. Jackie said, “I don’t know. I think they’re kind of pretty.”

I’m sure the clerk was just trying to be helpful. She was no doubt thinking back to a day, perhaps not so long ago, when she would have had no idea what Eid was. She was imagining just how embarrassed she’d have been if she’d thought, “I don’t know, I think they’re kind of pretty,” and had sent off her Christmas cards with Eid stamps.

Jackie, of course, knows perfectly well what she’d be doing. She’s lived places where Eid is as big a holiday as Christmas is here. And nobody that we’d be likely to send a card to would be offended by receiving one with an Eid stamp.

I momentarily considered whether I should be offended at the idea of a US government employee steering people away from stamps on the grounds of religious belief, but it was so funny I couldn’t work up any indignation. It’s not like the clerk was trying to keep us from celebrating Eid. She was trying to help a couple of small-town folks avoid committing the terrible faux pas of unknowingly sending Christmas cards with an Eid stamp. I’m sure if couples wearing headscarves and turbans come in, she sells them Eid stamps without comment. (That mental picture has me laughing again.)

After pointing out that the post office really ought to have solstice stamps, Jackie ended up getting a page of Earthscape stamps.

Bonus extremely lame pun: A while back someone posted a bunch of lame puns in the men’s locker room at the Fitness Center. One was “What’s it called when everybody tries to go into the post office at the same time? A stamp-ede!” Knowing that Jackie would have seen the same puns posted in the women’s locker room, when I met her in the lobby I asked, “What’s it called when everybody tries to go into the post office at the same time on the last day of Ramadan? A stamp-Eid Mubarak!”

I’ve hesitated to write this post, because I don’t want to sound like a right-wing nutjob ranting about the war on Christmas, and because I recognize that I’m speaking with the privilege of someone who belongs, more or less, to the dominant culture.

Even so, here it is: I find it weird and off-putting for someone to go through gyrations to avoid wishing people a holiday that they may not celebrate. Most particularly, I dislike making good wishes conditional.

As I say, I understand the privilege of being able to accept a Happy Chanukah, Eid Mubarak, or Happy Cow Pongal without there being any implication as to my own position within either that or the dominant culture, and I understand that the converse would not be the case. And I’m totally not with the war-on-Christmas folks: I’m perfectly sanguine with generic holiday greetings like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

It’s the conditional holiday wishes that bug me. Give me a sincere “Happy Diwali” and I’ve got no problem. But it would strike me as odd—even a little disturbing—if someone wished me a “Happy festival of lights, if you celebrate one at this time of year!”

A month ago, the anchor on BBC News America was signing off on Thanksgiving day and went through some such circumlocutions to wish everyone who celebrated it a Happy Thanksgiving. Is that is really necessary? What could possibly be the harm in wishing someone from Europe or Asia or South America (or Canada, for whom it would be a month late) a “Happy Thanksgiving” even if they don’t celebrate it?

Now, I certainly don’t want to suggest that members of the non-dominant culture should be obliged to keep track of the dominant culture’s holidays and cough up the appropriate greetings: Quite the reverse.

I’m glad to be given holiday best wishes for whatever holidays you celebrate, and, as I say, I’m perfectly happy with generic holiday best wishes. If you happen to know that it’s some local holiday, and feel moved to do so, you can wish me a good one of those holidays too, but don’t feel obliged on my account. (And if you want to snub one of my holidays, for whatever reason, that’s fine too. I probably won’t even notice. That’s what the privilege of belonging to the dominant culture is.)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!