When Kavita Khanna went shopping last month for holiday cards to send to her parents and brothers in India,she immediately was drawn to the cluster of cards festooned with the generic phrases “happy new year” and “season's greetings.”
The computer consultant and mother of two is Hindu and volunteers as an activities coordinator at the Rajdhani Mandir Temple in Chantilly,Va.,near her home.
Since she was young,Khanna,36,of Centreville,Va.,has celebrated Diwali,the Hindu new year,by sending holiday greetings to family and friends. But her greetings were limited to those with generic phrases and artwork that made no reference to Santa Claus or a menorah.
Until recently,mainstream greeting card companies didn't make Diwali cards.
Hallmark changed that.
On Aug. 1,the Hallmark Corp. added two more holidays to its calendar and new greeting cards to stores for Diwali,which is Saturday,and Eid al-Fitr,the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan,which this year will be Nov. 24 and 25.
“Having it at a place like Hallmark would be wonderful,” said Khanna,when she heard about the cards. “Having something specified to Diwali would be great.”
Hallmark spokeswoman Deidre Parkes said the cards were created in response to a growing demand from Hindus and Muslims — two of the fastest growing populations in the United States.
“There was obviously a need there that wasn't being met,” she said.
So far,feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,Parkes said. She has gotten numerous e-mails from Muslim Americans thanking Hallmark for making the cards and recognizing the holiday.
“It's important to us,” said Abassie Jarr-Koroma,librarian for the Islamic Center of Washington,D.C. “It just brings it to the knowledge of people.”
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan,a month of fasting and sacrifice. Muslims rejoice by feasting on delicacies,visiting family and friends and giving gifts,Jarr-Koroma said.
“It's like you've been tied up in a knot all month and all of a sudden you are released,so you celebrate,” he said.
Jarr-Koroma said the cards should not be valued for their commercial aspects,but rather for their ability to build camaraderie and communication between Muslim Americans and the rest of the population.
“It's wonderful because the fact of the matter is we all live together,” he said.
A group of internal researchers gathered information about the proper cultural references and wording of the cards,Parkes said. But the company is still “testing the waters,” she said.
“This is a new market for us,” she said. “With every card we put out there … we start off really small to make sure we're hitting the right markets and doing it the right way.”
Cards available on Hallmark’s Web site feature symbols of the holiday,which is also known as the festival of lights — homes decorated with lights,fireworks and elephants. Cards in stores start at 99 cents.
The American Greetings Corp. does not offer Eid or Diwali cards in its stores.
Spokeswoman Angela Thompson said the company will “wait and see” if there is a market for the cards.
The company is testing Ramadan e-cards on its Web site,using them as a “measurement tool to help determine if this is something consumers are truly looking for.”
The cards feature silhouettes of mosques or wishes for a happy Ramadan.
American Greetings typically tries to be sensitive to the needs of different cultures and religions,Thompson said.
“We do not want to rush to market with cards for occasions that might not be appropriate for greeting-card sending,” she said in an e-mail.
She said the company asked a series of questions internally before deciding to hold back on Eid cards: Do people want to send cards for Eid? Is it culturally and religiously appropriate? Are there certain nuances that might be deemed offensive to significant numbers of people?
“If it's not offensive to these religious communities and they use them,then they're appropriate,” said John Burns,professor of philosophy and religious studies at George Mason University in Fairfax,Va.,who has written about the commercialization of holidays.
But the new Hallmark cards are adding to an American commercial culture,Burns said,bringing Muslims and Hindus into a way of life with a long history of holiday card giving.
“This is really just a facet of all of these religions coming to the United States,” Burns said. “But they inevitably become influenced by our way of life. I don't know whether it's bad or good,but it's how these religions develop here and there will be more,no doubt.”
To see free Internet greeting cards,visit www.hallmark.com or www.americangreetings.com