Holiday greeting cards cover the globe
BY CATHLEEN FALSANI RELIGION WRITER
My husband calls them "guilt cards." Most of the rest of the world calls them Christmas cards.
He's better at sending them than I am, and I'm better at feeling guilty about not sending them than he is.
They've started appearing on store shelves, and I've started thinking about the list of people that I should send them to but probably won't because that's what happens every year.
Two unopened boxes of Christmas cards with three cheerful nuns ice skating on them are still sitting, dusty, in the corner of my home office. Mocking me. Daring me to try again this year.
And now, to add to my holiday-greeting-card-related angst, there are cards for a slew of new holidays. Actually, the holidays are old, but the cards are new.
American Greetings, e-greetings and Yahoo Greetings all offer electronic or downloadable greeting cards for nearly every Muslim, Buddhist, Baha'i, Hindu, Jain and Earth-based religious holiday, in addition to Christian and Jewish holy days--and I don't just mean Christmas, Easter and Hanukkah.
There are cards for Ramadan, Sukkot, Purim, Bodhi Day, Samhain, Wesak, Divali, Holi, Passover, Lent, Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah, Tu B'Shevat, Eid ul-Fitr, Buddha Purnima, Jamshedi Navroz, Mahavir Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, the Birth of Bala'u'llah and all the solstices.
That's a lot of holiday greeting cards to send--or, in my case, to think about sending, not send and then feel bad about for another year.
In the past five years, the market for non-Christian holiday cards has taken off, according to Marianne McDermott, executive vice president of the Greeting Card Association.
"The Jewish cards were there before and have picked up, but I really think the Kwanzaa cards led the parade," McDermott said. "I don't have set figures, but, from everything my members have told me, they're increasing every year."
Greeting cards have been around for hundreds of years, beginning with valentines in the 15th century in Europe. The first Christmas cards appeared in the mid-19th century and became a cottage industry in the United States after the turn of the 20th century. More than 70 percent of American households buy at least one holiday card every year, the Greeting Card Association reports. Christmas cards still account for the bulk of these--60 percent--but other religious holidays are slowly gaining ground.
Not that sending greeting cards is an intrinsic part of every religious holiday celebration.
Most Buddhists let Bodhi Day--the anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment--and Wesak--the celebration of the Buddha's birth--pass by without ever having a Hallmark moment.
Though more electronic greeting cards for Diwali--the most popular holiday in Hinduism--have begun showing up recently in the e-mail box of a swami I know, it's hardly an age-old Hindu custom.
My Jewish friends tell me the only people they usually get Hanukkah cards from are their non-Jewish friends. Hanukkah really is a minor Jewish festival, but a market for Hanukkah cards has been created, it would seem, for Christians who don't know what to send their Jewish friends at Christmastime.
Traditionally, if greeting cards are sent to mark a Jewish holiday, it's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
For more than a century, many in the Islamic world have sent greeting cards to mark Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the two most important feast days in the Muslim calendar. In recent years, the options for Eid and Ramadan cards have multiplied exponentially. While they have yet to make a big splash in mainstream stationery stores, hundreds of Muslim holiday cards are available online. Yahoo Greetings offers 31 varieties for Ramadan alone.
"Over the last two years, I am amused at how the traditional greeting card companies have sensed these changes and are taking commercial advantage of it," said Kareem Irfan, president of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, referring to the rapid growth of the Muslim community in the United States. "They really tapped into this huge market."
This year, the U.S. Postal Service even issued a special stamp commemorating the Eids.
"It isn't a religion greeting per se," Irfan said.
The Arabic script on the stamp, he said, translates to: " 'May the festival be blessed for you.' You could send it to any faith denomination."
If I do get around to sending holiday cards this year, I know what stamp will be appropriate for any occasion. And, in the true holiday spirit, I can feel guilty about not sending cards year-round.
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