November 29, 2004
Merry Chrismukkah: Cards Combine Holidays
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Every December, Zack Rudman and his wife send out cards with winterscapes and generic holiday greetings.
Finally, though, the Kansas City lawyer found a variety that seemed to better suit a Jewish man and an Episcopal woman with two young children as familiar with the menorah as mistletoe. It screams "Merry Chrismukkah!"
Across the country, two holidays that once seemed to share little more than a calendar page are increasingly being melded on greeting cards aimed at the country's estimated 2.5 million families with both Jewish and Christian members.
"It's representative of the way people live and the way they spend the holidays," said Elise Okrend, an owner of Raleigh, N.C.-based MixedBlessing, a card company devoted to interfaith holiday greetings. "And it's an expression of people understanding the people around them."
MixedBlessing, like other companies, has found such interfaith greeting cards have a stable market niche and a slowly growing customer base.
The company was among the first to come out with holiday cards suitable for Jewish-Christian families about 15 years ago and is still perhaps the only company to focus entirely on that market segment.
In its first year, it sold about 3,000 cards from nine different offerings. This year, Okrend projects sales of 200,000 cards off its 55-card line.
Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards Inc. says among its most popular categories of Hanukkah cards is the one that combines Jewish and Christian themes.
The company tried the idea with just one card in the mid-90s; today they have four.
"The essence of these cards is not about interfaith households as much as it is about friends and family members of different faiths acknowledging the different holidays that they all celebrate," said Shalanda Stanley, a product manager at Hallmark.
American Greetings Corp. has also increased its Hanukkah-Christmas line offerings since its introduction eight years ago. There are around 10 this year.
Kathy Krassner, editor of Greetings Inc., a trade magazine, said mixed-faith holiday cards are one of countless niche categories introduced by greeting card companies.
"It's an interesting market," she said. "But it's a limited market."
The newest player is Chrismukkah.com, which helped put a name on what many interreligious families have been celebrating for years.
Ron Gompertz founded the company this year with his wife, inspired by an episode of the popular Fox series "The O.C." in which Seth Cohen, a character whose mother is Protestant and father is Jewish, coins the term.
"It's a little bit of both," Gompertz explains. "Spin the dreidel under the mistletoe."
As with anything addressing religion, though, cardmakers are careful not to offend.
The Chrismukkah site even offers a disclaimer: "We respect people's different faiths and do not suggest combining the religious observance of Christmas and Hanukkah."
"Our intention wasn't to merge the religious aspects," Gompertz said, "but rather the secular aspects of the holidays."
Gompertz's explanation hasn't gone over well with everyone. He says the site has angered some conservative Jews who believe it promotes intermarriage.
Cards from the Livingston, Mont.-based Chrismukkah.com use humor to create a hybrid holiday. Gompertz is Jewish and from New York City. He married the daughter of a Protestant minister from the Midwest. His company offers greetings including images of a Christmas tree decorated with dreidels, a menorah filled with candy canes and simpler varieties featuring messages including "Merry Mazeltov" and "Oy Joy."
"It's whimsical. It's humorous," said Gompertz. "This is a way of diffusing the seriousness of it."
Most of American Greetings' Hanukkah-Christmas cards are humorous, too. One shows three snowmen - two dressed in traditional winter hats and scarves, the third wearing a yarmulke and prayer shawl. Another features a list of Hanukkah songs that never caught on, including "Shlepping Through a Winter Wonderland,""Bubbie Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and "Come On, Baby, Light My Menorah."
"We don't go over the line," said Pam Fink, who works on Jewish-themed cards for American Greetings. "We're careful to make sure it's lighthearted funny, but not too far."
More serious messages are offered, too. One Hallmark card begins "Hanukkah and Christmas - two different holidays, but each a celebration of peace and joy, of love and family and friends."
Cardmakers say similarities between the two holidays, and the strong secular side of each is what makes combining them possible, something not necessarily true of any other season.
That hasn't stopped Gompertz from floating around an "Easterover" idea, featuring a "Rabbi Rabbit."
Still, Gompertz thinks he'll probably pass on that idea. "That threatens to push the levels of what's acceptable," he said.
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