An Post doesn’t get my stamp of approval this Christmas...

Ailin Quinlan is not impressed with the range of Christmas cards launched by 
An Post doesn’t get my stamp of approval this Christmas...

An Post has teamed up with Irish icon Johnny Logan to officially launch the season of sending for Christmas 2021. Johnny unveiled the new Christmas stamp collection from An Post for 2021 – a set of six different colourful illustrations. Picture: MAXWELLS

“HAPPY pastel colours.” “Playful iconography.” “Naughty or Nice.” “Sending Hugs.”

Not a nativity scene nor a Nollaig Shona in sight on An Post’s range of national Christmas stamps this year; not unless you want to pay an extra euro for a crib scene or a bit of Irish on one of the ‘international’ stamps.

How did An Post get it so wrong?

This year’s stamps are not awful; not exactly. But as one caller to the Joe Duffy Show said during the week, they’re definitely crass.

Not a single stamp in the €1.10 range has a traditional nativity scene. And as for the colours! Let’s be honest here. Christmas is not pastel. It never was. Especially not the Irish Christmas.

Christmas, our Christmas, is deep greens and cheerful shouty reds and hearty golds, with maybe a bit of royal purple thrown in here and there for variety.

The Irish Christmas is not weak peach and watery lemon and pallid, sluggish lime green; the colours on this year’s national Christmas stamps, which look like they should have been issued in Malibu.

I’ve no problem with Santa Claus and Ho, Ho, Ho and the rest of it, but to my eye there are some pretty dodgy implications emanating from a stamp with Naughty or Nice emblazoned across it. Who on earth signed off on that one?

An Post may not have meant it that way, and the phrase may originate in an innocuous Christmas song, but in this context it resonates unpleasant, cheap insinuation.

And who decided that you have to be resident abroad this year if you want a crib or a Nollaig Shona on your stamp? Full marks to Sean Dunne, from Blackrock in Cork, who on live radio this week so clearly and powerfully articulated the sense of disappointment, anger and betrayal about the €1.10 selection of 2021 Christmas stamps, which featured neither a nativity scene nor a message in our native language.

The Christmas message of Jesus being born on Christmas Day is still very valid in our culture, as are festive Christmas greetings ‘as Gaeilge’ – because, despite what some cool dudes in An Post seem to assume about the increasing secularisation of Irish culture, there is still an extremely strong Christian and Catholic demographic in this country, and there is still a powerful appreciation of the importance of our native language. 

Both of which, it should be very loudly declared, should be represented in our range of national festive stamps alongside the cartoon Santa Clauses, the robins and snowmen and the candy canes.

The national Christmas stamp range, which supposedly celebrates a major and very ancient Christian festival on December 25, is, as one caller said to Joe Duffy, effectively discriminatory, because if you want a religious stamp you have to pay extra.

I am baffled as to why the option of a powerful religious image was not available alongside these limpid, pastel cartoons. Our national stamps should represent the entire community. Not just the secular community.

Let me say this again. Christianity is still not a minority religion in this country. We have lots of people who are Catholics and Church of Ireland; we have lots of Christians and, logically speaking, they should be represented too.

In this context, I was so very relieved to see, in the unique Christmas Candlelight magazine published by the community of Inishannon, a truly wonderful recollection of the Nativity scene with the poem, The Donkey of the Crib;

I am that silent donkey

Who plodded through the snow

To the little town of Bethlehem

Two thousand years ago

Upon that Holy Silent Night I carried Mary’s Boy.

Thank God, somebody has not forgotten. I should say that this year’s edition is a truly bumper one, with many new writers including Sean Og OhAilpin. There’s a lovely piece about walking to school by 10-year-old John Walsh who recounts the wild birds and animals he spots on his daily journey, there’s some local history with photos to match from Alice Taylor, and a piece about Canada by the artist Mary Nolan O’Brien, while Charlie Wilkins waxes lyrical about the magic of the winter garden.

The magazine, the proceeds of which have helped to fund a number of local projects – the sculpture of the Horse and Rider at the eastern end of the village, The Blacksmith at the western end and the restoration of an old historic map of Innishannon which is displayed in St. Mary’s Church - also covers issues such as the wonders of the night sky and our mad obsession with coffee-drinking.

But, probably, the piece in this year’s Candlelight which resonated most strongly with me was the foreword by Alice Taylor. She talks about how this small West Cork village has mushroomed in recent years, but has still hopefully managed to maintain some of its ‘village ethos’.

This, she emphasises, is due in no small measure to all the local voluntary organisations where people put in endless hours of dedicated efforts to occupy the young and enhance and support the local community.

At the end of the day, says Taylor, Old Ireland knew that it was friends and neighbours who are “the real rafters” of this world. And let me add, the Irish Christmas is one of those mainstays, one of those friends.

Maybe those who bang the drum so loudly against the installation of Christmas cribs in hospital foyers and nativity scenes on national stamps should remember that this is who many of us still are.

And if we stand back and let the nay-sayers dispense with these old friends and neighbours, what will be left of us, really?

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