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Saturday, December 01, 2012 2:37 AM

I hope you are all getting ready for the holidays today as our trusty band of travelers are taking Chicago by storm. Thank goodness not literally. The weather is perfect to travel up and down the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue and to stroll through the German Christmas Market in Daley Square.

For so many of us living in Northwest Ohio, Christmas becomes the only real focus for a holiday season. However some know of the Jewish Holiday- Chanukah (OK you spell it the way you think it should be spelled), we have heard about Kwanzaa and then the Muslim holidays that occur mostly in November and January. It is easy for me to know when the Muslim holidays occur because I live across the street from a Mosque.

In some parts of the country, there have been rumors, innuendoes and just plain falsehoods about the postal service’s role in commemorating these events on postage stamps. Let’s start with the EID stamps. First despite email rumors the stamps pre-dated the 9/11 attacks, do not “honor” terrorism and were not issued at the behest of President Obama. One more rumor brings it all home to me is that it commemorates the Muslim Christmas. None of that is true just like Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas but we’ll get into that later. Rather, the stamp is part of the Postal Services’ “Holiday” stamp series and has been issued for the past several years. 

The first EID stamp was issued as a 34-cent stamp and two years ago it was issued as a 44 cent stamp. As with many definitive stamps, they are being issued now as a forever stamp so the value of the stamp will continue to rise with any future rate increases.

So what Muslim holidays are being commemorated? Islam recognizes two holidays, specifically known as Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Fast-Breaking) and Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). The Arabic script on the stamp says Eid Mubarak, or “Blessed Festival.” This greeting can apply to either of the two celebrations.

During this same period of time, we commemorate another week-long holiday known as Kwanzaa. Although the true meanings of this holiday are rooted in the culture, community and history of the African world, it is a holiday that was created by an American, Maulana Karenga, in 1966-67. The holiday celebrates and honors African heritage and is observed each year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, the last day of which is known as the Day of Assessment.

Karenga wrote in his annual message of 2009 that for the African people, this has historically been and remains a time of turning inward, sober assessment of ourselves and community and recommitment to our highest values in heart, mind and practice.” It is a holiday that calls for introspection and reflection. According to one African group, this is a time “when the edges of the year meet, when the old year is going out and the new ear is coming in.” Not unlike the culture of humanity to make resolutions for the New Year, to vow to reinvent ourselves and become what it is we want to be.

Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat on which other symbols are placed, corn and other crops, a candle holder with seven candles, called a kinara, a communal cup for pouring a drink, gifts, a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag. The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The holiday greeting is Joyous Kwanzaa.

Families celebrating Kwanzaaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. A drink is shared, generally with a common chalice which is then passed around to all celebrants. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa. The holiday greeting is “Joyous Kwanzaa”.

If you would just allow me for a moment to stop here before I fill the entire page. We’ll continue this in my next article about the remaining holidays and the stamps that define them. But I must ask you a favor. Please keep this column for two weeks and reread it before you read the second installment of my story.


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