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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Of Christmas Fable and Christmas Fact

I see that the ever-tiresome right-wing crusade against "Happy Holidays" is now gearing up, apparently under the undying assumption that all would be right in the world again if everybody spoke English and celebrated the exact same holidays in just about the exact same way (albeit with some folks doing bits of it in Latin). Via TBogg I see this cautionary tale:

So she [the blogger's mother] stops by her local US Post Office a few days ago then asks the man behind the counter for this year's Christmas stamps. He pulls out a sheet of something called Holiday Cookies. To know my mom is to know that she has never indulged in cutesy stuff. Every year she always selects the Christmas stamp that features a classic painting of Madonna and Child. She asks if they have any classic Christmas stamps and the man pulls out a couple of sheets of last year's Madonna and Child. Mom notices he doesn't seem happy and he says to her, "These are all I have and they'll be the last you ever see." Mom asks, "What do you mean?" He explains the USPS will not be issuing any more "religious" stamps.

Ever.

Mom is momentarily stunned. She then raises her eyebrows a bit and asks, "Are you allowed to say 'Merry Christmas' to us?"

The man's face falls and he lowers his voice in answer, "No. We can only say 'Happy Holidays,'" he tries to smile at her, "But if you say 'Merry Christmas' to me directly I will respond in kind."


Ah, the horror: the onward march of Political Correctness is now engulfing the United States Postal Service, in the form of postage stamps!

Well, setting aside the obvious possibility, seemingly missed by anyone blogging about this who's never worked in any kind of retail or similar capacity, that maybe just maybe the nice fellow at the counter didn't know what he was talking about (has no one ever encountered the person at the counter who is simply full of shit, totally mistaken, completely uninformed, or just plain "out there"?), there's enough other factual matter that I managed to find in all of fifteen minutes of Googling that gives me cause to question the immediate leap to one of the most popular shibboleths today's right wing has in its backpack.

First, there is this PDF listing of Christmas-themed postage stamps from 1991 to 2003, from just about every country in the world that has a postal service at all. Scrolling down to the United States listings, I note that in the year 2000, no Christmas or generic Holiday-themed stamps were issued by the USPS at all; secondly, when the USPS has issued Holiday-themed stamps, there has always been a mix of both a religious-themed stamp and several "secular" stamps. Also, the PDF list here doesn't describe exactly which stamps are released, so it's entirely possible that the USPS has used "rerun" stamps from one holiday season to the next.

I've also read the USPS statement on this year's stamps, which have a "Holiday Cookies" theme. Reading through this press release, I'm struck by the repeated occurrence of one word. Not "Holiday" or "Christmas", though: I'm struck by the word "Pillsbury". Yes, the "Holiday Cookies" stamps are apparently part of some kind of partnership between the USPS and the folks at Pillsbury, who make all that nice dough for, you know, Holiday cookies. Wow. That all sounds pretty nefarious, doesn't it? I mean, how dare the USPS enter into any kind of corporate partnership! My God! (And one of the "Cookie" stamps is an angel -- not the most secular of beings, that.)

Returning to the helpful sales clerk, whenever I've asked for Christmas or Holiday stamps in the past, I've always been handed the year's "secular" ones first, and I've had to specifically request the Madonna-and-Child ones. If that's an official policy, I have to say that it's not one that really bothers me that much, and I've never had a clerk bat an eye at giving me the Madonna stamps (unless they were out). I have had USPS clerks who don't even ask what kind of stamps I want, no matter what time of year I'm buying them; if I say I need a book of stamps, I get the boring standard-issue US flag ones. But that's only some clerks; others will actually open the drawer and see just what they have on hand at that time. In any event, taking what the guy at the Post Office counter seriously as a statement of official USPS policy seems to me to be about as reasonable as asking the receptionist at The Pentagon when the troop withdrawals are scheduled to start.

Oh, and if that all isn't enough, check out this bit of news from the Virtual Stamp Club's, who I presume just may know a bit more about the subject than some blogger's mother:

Other 2006 issues include The Art of Disney: Romance (Mickey and Minnie, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella and Prince Charming, and Beauty and the Beast); boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, in a design reminiscent of a 1930s boxing poster; American Motorcycles; Holiday Snowflakes; and a new religious Christmas stamp, based on Chacón's "Madonna and Child with Bird" painting at the Denver Art Museum. (emphasis added)


And here's another corroborating source: there is be a new Madonna-and-child stamp; just not a new one this year. (Now, it's entirely possible that the new one won't appear in 2006 either, since these kinds of things tend to be tentative in nature and from what I've read, a lot of it depends on increases in postal rates that haven't been settled yet. But that, of course, raises new questions about the possible reasons the USPS might have to not have brand spanking new stamps in circulation each and every year -- questions with answers that may not revolve around political correctness.)

So before you all start charging into a new round of "Here's how the liberal ACLU PC crowd is destroying all that is good about American life", you might get your damn facts straight, people. As an anecdote, the original tale above isn't even particularly useful or illustrative of anything at all.

(Oh, and one final bit of interest: in the 90s, the USPS did try to end the Madonna-and-child stamps, but the decision was reversed by that paragon of All Things Conservative, President Bill Clinton. And the "great tradition" of Christmas stamps in the United States only started in 1962, with the first Madonna stamp coming in 1966. So the idea that this is some great tradition of old that is being crushed under the weight of New Liberalism or whatever just doesn't hold up.)

EDIT: Edited slightly for clarity.

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