It took petitions from everyone from schoolchildren to members of Congress, and 12 years of waiting. Soon, a long-hoped-for goal will be a stickum-backed reality of less than a square inch: a new postage stamp recognizing the holiday of Diwali.
The stamp, announced by the U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday, will be the first stamp honoring the Hindu religion, joining U.S. postage that has marked Christian, Jewish and Muslim holidays in the past.
What’s the value of an old-fashioned stamp in a society that uses less and less snail mail? “Stamps are miniature pieces of art that reflect the American experience,” Mark Saunders at the U.S. Postal Service said.
Members of the Hindu community and their supporters have asked for years to join the long list of themes that have inspired stamp art — from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix to Charlie Brown. Saunders said the first petition for a Diwali stamp was received in 2004. It’s hard for a petition to make the cut: the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee receives about 40,000 stamp suggestions every year and only recommends about 25 to the postmaster general, Saunders said.
The call for a Diwali stamp grew louder. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a resolution in Congress last year in favor of a Diwali stamp. Indian diplomats in the United States expressed support for it, and thousands of Americans wrote letters and signed petitions.
In the end, it was the volume of those petitions, not the high-profile support, that swayed the committee, said William Gicker, director of stamp development. “This was the biggest push, the most people writing in,” he said. “From our standpoint, we are producing stamps for people to use for holidays … Looking at the numbers, we saw that Diwali is a holiday that people send cards and correspondence. So we were happy to support that.”
Gicker said he was also enthusiastic about the theme of light over darkness celebrated during the five-day festival of Diwali. “I knew there would be amazing imagery,” he said.
After the advisory committee recommended the creation of a Diwali stamp last year, the Postal Service asked Connecticut photographer Sally Andersen-Bruce, who has worked on other stamps, to create a Diwali image. She used a clay lamp from India with the appropriate wick and oil that might actually be used on Diwali, Gicker said, and the Postal Service consulted Hindu experts for approval of the design.
The finishing touch for the design that the Postal Service unveiled on Tuesday was the glittering backdrop: “We knew that it needed to have some sparkle and some light to it,” Gicker said.
Diwali, which is celebrated with gifts, feasts and fireworks in addition to the traditional lamps depicted on the stamp, falls on the new moon between mid-October and mid-November each year. The Postal Service said it will start issuing the stamps on Oct. 5.