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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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  • Mandi Katz says:

    Australia Post is not really a government agency. It is run as a commercial operation with federal government oversight, and it’s likely that the decision to discount stamps for Chrismtams is a marketing decision aimed to drum up business in an age of decreasing use of post.

    SO they are doing it becuase it’s good for bsuiness in a way that discounting Rosh Hashana cards wouldnt be.

    Not sure why you have assumed that it must be based in federal policy – I’d be interested to see if it was.

    I don’t have a view on whether Israel should change its flag or anthem – those seem to me to be very ‘cream on the cake’ issues for citizens to determine. Far more concerning are things like the unequal allocation of public funding in Israel for the Jewish and Arab sectors particularly in education.

  • TheSadducee says:

    You’ll probably be accused of “stamp-washing” Frosh with this type of comment piece! :)

  • frosh says:

    Hi Mandi,

    After the ‘incident’, I asked some admin staff where I work (who are older than I am) and they said this is something that happens every Xmas, not just this year, so I assumed that Xmas stamp pricing had been occurring since the semi-privitisation of the postal service, and before the decline of the industry. I could be wrong though, as I couldn’t find any definitive information on this.

    As for non-symbolic discrimination against Arab-Israelis (e.g. education), I think that you and I are on the same page there.

    However, it’s worth remembering that it was only a few years ago that an Arab-Israeli judge put the Israeli head-of-sate behind bars (and rightfully so). That type of thing couldn’t happen in Australia for mutliple reasons!

  • Judy SInger says:

    Oh great! Now thanks to you, the Daily Telegraph will do a frontpager on how the politically correct left and the Jews are trying to deprive Aussies of Christmas, and we’ll all be forced to surf back to Poland or wherever we came from on a barbed wire surfboard without a paddle. Thanxalot. Not. :-)

  • Elijah says:

    The Post Master General in 1957 issued for the first time, special commemorative Christmas stamps. These stamps were in 3 1/2 pence and 4 pence denominations. The postal rate increased from 3 1/2 pence to 4 pence in late October early November 1956, just in time for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. To send a lettergram or card at Christmas in 1957, cost 3 1/2 pence.

    It’s a sort of Christmas / Chanukah good will present to the people of Australia and is available throughout November and December each year for envelopes marked “Card Only”.

  • Jonny Schauder says:

    Would have been interesting if you’d said they were Chanukkah cards… can only imagine the discussion…

    5c increase for the Hechsher… LOL :)

  • letters in the age says:

    Happy holidays peeps!!

    Stay safe,happy and enjoy the company of your friends and family



  • Eileen Game says:

    In Britain stamps could be bought during a short pre Christmas period at last years prices by those on benefits. Since there was a large hike in prices for the rest of us, I wonder whether they had to say if they were for christmas cards or any other purpose!

  • M. D. Fisher says:

    That makes me so angry I could stamp my foot. Can I do it 5 cents cheaper?

  • Andrea C says:

    Belatedly catching up on my reading… glad someone else pointed out that the cheaper Christmas cards (in my work I’ve had it drubbed into me that the x word is slang and not reflective of the ‘true’ meaning of the occasion!)have been around for decades!

    I’d like to bring to you another mistaken view in this article.
    Early you state ‘Furthermore, even our Head of State must be a member of the Anglican Church.’

    As far as I’m aware there is no criteria in the Australian consitution regarding the religion of any appointed office holder (such as Governor General) or elected member. There is no constitutional limitation, beyond citizenship, for any such roles.

    Where you error is sad is that it fails to acknowledge that our country has had two non christian (no idea about non-anglican)Governor Generals- BOTH were Jews- Sir Isacc Isaccs and Sir Zelman Cowan.

    The Queen/King of England is by the UK Consitution required to be Anglican and is infact Head of the Anglican Church.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I’m not sure how the fact that the Xmas stamp discounts “have been around for decades” is contradictory to anything that I have expressed, either in the article or the comments. Rather, it is in accord with what I have written.

    As to who is our head of state, as I stated in a discussion under the Facebook link to this article, I understand that the British Monarch is the Head of State, and that the GG is the Monarch’s representative.

  • Andrea C says:

    Frosh, my apology if I missed some of what you said. Andrea

  • frosh says:

    Having said that Andrea, it is apparently something of a constitutional uncertainty:

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