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Why are Xmas Stamps Different to All Other Stamps – Ma Nishtana?

December 20, 2012 – 11:36 am14 Comments

An Australian Xmas stamp from 1977

By Anthony Frosh
In recent years, I’ve heard several Australian Jews who consider themselves very progressive question whether Israel should have a Magen David on its flag, and especially question the words in Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. Hatikvah refers to the “Jewish spirit”, and thus it can be argued that these words exclude non-Jewish Israelis (namely, the significant Arab-Israeli population). The anthem also refers to looking East toward Zion, which to me seems quite Ashkenazi centric, or at least excludes Jews from many countries such as Egypt, Syria, or Iraq, who would have been looking North, South, and West respectively.

But alas, I’m certainly not arguing for a change of Israeli anthem or Israeli flag. For one place, as an Australian Jew, it’s not my place to argue for such things. Furthermore, almost all states have these ethnocratic elements, and people just accept them and move on.  One only need to look at the Australian flag which contains multiple Crosses on it, all connected with the British Isles. And of course, the schedule of public holidays includes Easter and Christmas, but no holidays from any other cultures or religions (e.g. Greek Orthodox Easter, Chinese New Year, or an Jewish or Muslim holidays).  Furthermore, even our Head of State must be a member of the Anglican Church.

As with the situation in Israel, I have little issue with these ethnocratic elements. They are rooted in the history of this country, and it’s something that those of us outside the dominant Anglo-Celtic Christian cultural group largely accept and are not overly interested in changing. Personally, there is only one Australian public holiday that irks me, and that is that our national day which particularly excludes the Indigenous community. I think that is something worth changing.

Recently, however – in a rather unlikely place – I got to thinking about the issue of ethnocracy in Australia. Last week, I went to buy some stamps in order to send free movie tickets to Galus Australis readers who had taken up an offer via our Facebook group. The movie tickets were in card form, not dissimilar to postcards, but needed to be sent in standard envelopes.

I walked into the news agency and asked for a dozen stamps. The middle-aged woman serving me asked “Are they for Christmas cards?”
“Well, they’re for cards, but they need to be sent in envelopes.”
“Oh envelopes doesn’t matter, but are the cards Christmas cards?” she asked again, in complete seriousness.
At this point, I remembered one of my colleagues saying something about Christmas stamps being cheaper. I could have said yes, but I am always reluctant to tell outright lies.
“Well, they’re cards, and they’re being posted to people in the holiday season.”
“Yes, but are they Christmas cards?”
“They’re cards I’m sending to people. Why does it matter if they’re for Christmas?”
“Well, stamps for Christmas cards are 5 cents cheaper” she said, again in complete seriousness and without any sense of the silliness of the situation.
“In that case, yes, you could call them Christmas cards. Could I please have a dozen stamps?”
And she proceeded to give me a strip of Xmas stamps.

Now obviously, the price discount of 5 cents per stamp is hardly of any personal financial consequence. However, the symbolism felt important. The Xmas stamp discount, and the fact that is must have its basis in federal policy, was another reminder of being an outsider, and of having one’s culture being considered of lesser value than the dominant culture. I can accept that we must have only a limited set of public holidays, and thus Good Friday is a public holiday, but not Yom Kippur for example. However, it seems completely unnecessary for the federal postal authorities to elevate one culture’s holidays over another by having a price difference between a stamp used to send a Xmas card versus a stamp used to send a greeting card related to an alternative cultural activity.

In conclusion, it is important to point out that I do not seriously feel that the Xmas stamp situation is any way a form of cultural oppression. It is merely a harmless, albeit very quaint bit of ethnocracy. In reality, it probably makes a lot of people who do purchase stamps for Xmas cards feel a little more positive toward our postal service.  However, it is a timely reminder that before any well meaning liberal minded Jews in Australia (or anywhere else in the Diaspora) start worrying about the need to remove ethnocratic symbolism from the State of Israel, that they first consider all the ethnocratic symbolism in their own states.

Galus Australis will be taking a break for a couple of weeks to enjoy the Australian summer. Hope to see you back in early 2013.

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