What about solstice stamps?

I started this post basically as a shout-out to the post office for doing a pretty good job of covering the range of holiday stamp needs. If you want to honor a major religious or ethnic northern-hemisphere-winter celebration with your stamp choice, the U.S. post office has you pretty well covered.

Jews and African-Americans will find Hanukkah and Kwanzaa stamps.

Christians who want to focus on the religious aspects of the holiday have two choices—manger scene with star, or the slightly more subtle lamb. (Is it the Lamb of God? Is it a reference to flocks watched over by shepherds at night? It’s a stretch, but you could even choose to pretend it’s a secular reference to wool production and the making of cozy sweaters—an option I mention because it’s a real possibility in this household.)

If your winter-holiday celebration has its roots in the Christian tradition, but is a bit less religious-focused, you have several choices. There’s a kid in a snow-suit making a snow-angel, a one-horse-open-sleigh reference, a Santa Claus, and some holiday decorations with Christmas cookies.

There’s even a stamp for Diwali (and the post office always has a stamp for Eid, although I guess this year, since Ramadan was back in the summer, they didn’t see fit to include it with the winter holiday stamps).

But just as I was getting ready to sing the praises of the U.S. Post Office for hitting just about every note, I realized that they’d left me out. There’s no stamp for me to put on my solstice cards. Those bastards!

I shall have to write a strong letter of protest.

You wouldn’t want those

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!”

Support your local groundhog

Weather is a local phenomenon. Oh, weather systems can cover half a continent, but the weather on the north edge of a huge weather system will be entirely different from the weather at the south edge. And any particular spot on the planet sees a unique sequence of weather systems, somewhat different from those seen by other nearby spots, and entirely different from those seen by more distant spots.

This is why I’ve always been completely baffled by celebrity groundhogs.

It makes no more sense to pay attention to the shadows of distant groundhogs than it makes to pay attention to the forecasts of distant meteorologists. In fact, it makes much less sense—a distant meteorologist has the skills and technology to produce a useful forecast for your local area. But I have no more interest in what some celebrity groundhog sees when he emerges from his burrow than I have in the local weather report for Hong Kong or Timbuktu.

What matters is what your local groundhog sees when he emerges from his burrow this morning! Pay no attention to the shadows of distant groundhogs, whatever their celebrity status!

Hereabouts, it’s rather foggy, assuring us of an early spring.

A grumble on conditional holiday wishes

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!

My favorite holiday: Groundhog’s Day

I’m a latecomer to Groundhog’s Day fandom. I blame my second-grade teacher. She told us about the holiday, but who somehow failed to get through to me that it’s a joke.

That unfortunate early experience aside, the cross-quarter date is important to me. Just like Halloween marks the time when I tend to start worrying about the approaching dark days of winter, Groundhog’s Day is when I start to feel like the worst is past.

That wasn’t always true. I used to think that February was the worst part of winter. It always felt bitterly unfair that I’d (somehow) make it through January, only to have to confront another whole month of winter—with no guarantee of relief in March either. (We often get mild weather starting in late March, but it’s also entirely possible to get a whole winter’s worth of snow in the first few weeks of spring.)

But the sun follows a more rigid schedule. The days will get longer—and at an increasingly rapid pace over the next few weeks. And, despite the idiosyncrasies of the weather in any particular year, the longer days will lead to warmer days. It would take a volcano to make it otherwise.

So, I’m a fan of Groundhog’s Day and its promise of spring—whether early or on its regular schedule.