The United States Postal Service (USPS) is preparing for the holidays with two new stamp issues.
On Nov. 1, USPS unveiled a Hanukkah Forever stamp with a first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony took place at the Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. The stamp features a warm illustration of a holiday menorah in the window of a home. The eight nights and days of Hanukkah begin on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, a date that falls in late November or December. In 2016, Hanukkah begins at sundown Dec. 24.
“The Hanukkah stamp we’re dedicating today honours a religious observance that is more than 2,000 years old — and how appropriate that the word itself — Hanukkah — means ‘dedication’ in Hebrew,” said USPS COO and Executive Vice-President David Williams.
“This beautiful stamp depicts a warm, elegant illustration of a holiday menorah in the window of a home. The white window trim is visible through the branches of the menorah, which echo a tangle of snow-covered tree branches beyond the glass. Artist William Low added visual interest to the scene by highlighting the contrast between the hot candle flames and the cool snow, the vertical candles and the horizontal window frame, and the dark menorah with the brightly lit candles. Starting today, this beautiful image of remembrance, light and love will travel on letters and packages to millions of households and businesses throughout America and around the world.”
Low, of Huntington, N.Y., worked under art director Ethel Kessler, of Bethesda, M.D., who designed the stamp.
“We are deeply honoured to host the Postal Service in unveiling this year’s Chanukah stamp,” said Senior Rabbi Dan Levin. “The holiday of Chanukah is a celebration of the triumph of the spirit over oppression so deeply reflected in the story of America. All of us in the Jewish community are proud to see our heritage woven into the philatelic tradition of America.”
Hanukkah is a transliteration or change of letters of the Hebrew word as written in the Roman alphabet. There are various spellings, though the most widely used in the United States are Hanukkah and Chanukah.
Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” Tradition relates how a miracle took place during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by conquering armies. The sacramental oil—thought to be enough for only one day—burned for eight days.
The miracle of the oil is at the heart of the ritual of the lighting of the “hanukiah” a menorah — candelabra — with nine branches, eight that hold candles representing each of the eight nights and days of Hanukkah, and the ninth, the “shamash”—or “servant”—used to light the other candles. The “hanukiah,” used only at Hanukkah, traditionally was placed for all to see at the entrance of the home. At times in history when it was not safe for Jewish families to make a public declaration of faith, the menorah was set instead in a prominent place inside the home. Today in the U.S., many families have renewed the tradition of displaying the menorah in windows during the holiday.
Hanukkah is a time for gatherings of family and friends with feasting, games and other activities. Foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and “sufganiyot” (deep-fried doughnuts) are traditional. After the lighting of the candles, there may be singing and a gift exchange. Children play a game called dreidel. Competing for a pot of chocolate coins, nuts, pennies or other prizes, each player takes turns spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top with letters on each side. The letters form an acronym for the Hebrew saying “A great miracle happened there,” referring to the miracle of the oil. Depending on the outcome of the dreidel’s spin, the player either takes from or gives to the pot. The game ends when one player has won all the treats.
On Nov. 3, USPS also unveiled a Nativity Forever stamp at Saint John’s Church in Washington, D.C.
“Today we honour one of the most symbolic images in the world. An image that for Christians from all walks of life celebrates the story of the Nativity – the birth of Jesus Christ. This beautiful stamp includes a brilliant star that stands out in both its illustration and in its meaning of Christmas,” said USPS Corporate Communications Vice-President Janice Walker. “There are no greater traditions than those of the holidays, and the Postal Service is happy to help you celebrate and honour your traditions.”
“During my time with the Board of Governors I witnessed the launch of a stamp series that spoke deeply to my Christian faith,” said USPS Board of Governors member Louis Giuliano. “The first stamp, aptly named ‘Holy Family,’ was issued in 2012 and illustrated the journey of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus into Egypt. In 2014, I was honoured to stand here in Saint John’s Church to help dedicate the second stamp in the series, Christmas Magi, which illustrated the story of the Three Wise Men.”
St. John’s Church Rector Reverend Dr. Luis León added: “This new stamp reminds us of God’s gift of his son as our saviour; his continuing gift of grace in our lives and the possibility for us to receive the power to become his children.”
Art director Greg Breeding, of Charlottesville, Virg., designed the stamp with original artwork by Nancy Stahl, of New York City.
The stamp art features an image of the Holy Family silhouetted against a dawn sky. As the baby Jesus lies in a straw-filled manger, Mary kneels to the right and Joseph stands to the left, holding a lantern. Over the scene, a bright star shines on the trio. The colour palette features simple shades of blue and white highlighted by deep shadows.
Artists through the centuries have celebrated the Nativity in painting and sculpture. Carvings of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, often accompanied by an ox and a donkey, date back at least to the fourth century. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first crèche in the 13th century. In 1223 in a cave near a small village, he set up a manger as a visual way to deepen the message of his sermon on the birth of Jesus.
Today, Nativity scenes remain the centerpieces of many church and family devotions during the Christmas season.
Nativity is being issued in booklets of 20 Forever stamps, which are always equal in value to the current first-class mail one-ounce price.