I love independent stationery stores. There is a certain level of artistry and wit to the cards sold there and the owners tend to hand-pick the merchandise, meaning a card you find at one store you won’t find at another. It also allows you to pat yourself on the back for knowing about certain studios before everyone else, as I did with Rifle Paper Co. before it was seemingly everywhere.
With a friend’s birthday coming up, I walked into a stationery store to purchase a card. He has a knack for telling cheesy jokes, so I had an idea as to what to buy for him. After finding a card with three cows in a “Moober” partying until the cows come home, I started to make my way to the register. I stopped as I saw the rack of Christmas cards, placed out before Halloween. On the rack were “Schitt’s Creek”-inspired cards that said “Eww Holidays!” and cute ones that said, “Merry Christmas from the Midwest.” But there were also several cards with Ruth Bader Ginsburg on them.
These weren’t Hanukkah cards because they weren’t selling any, despite the fact that Hanukkah is a full month before Christmas this year, nor were they generic holiday cards. While one had “Wishing you a supreme holiday” on the front, it featured an illustration of Ginsburg in a Santa hat. There was another one featuring the “Three Wise Women,” a play on the Three Wise Men from the Christian nativity. On it was Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey and either Hillary Clinton or Martha Stewart — it was so poorly drawn I truly couldn’t tell. All three of the women were carrying the traditionally depicted vessels for frankincense and myrrh, as well as a gift of gold.
After purchasing the card I came for, I left the store and put on Bo Burnham’s “White Woman’s Instagram,” but felt myself still annoyed by the fact that I saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jewish woman, on Christmas cards. I thought maybe this was just this particular stationery store since it also sells a “Badass Women” cross stitch pattern book and an entire table of tchotchkes for the feminist in your life. But the internet showed me there’s an entire world of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Christmas cards out there.
Want Ginsburg as Santa? There are multiple options! Bad puns involving “Bader”? Covered! A card that puts Mrs. Claus alongside Ginsburg, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vice President Kamala Harris? It’s in a sans-serif font! The internet, of course, has plenty of options for anything if you search hard enough, but it seems it’s not that hard to find cards that put Ginsburg at the center of a pagan holiday appropriated by the Catholic church.
This of course lies the main problem with putting Ginsburg on a Christmas card: Ginsburg was famously Jewish. Christmas is not a Jewish holiday, so putting her in iconography associated with it seems a bit uncomfortable. Even if you argue putting her in a Santa hat is a bit less off since he’s a secular icon, Santa still has origins in St. Nicholas, a bishop who provided bags of gold to a family in need of a dowry for their daughters. Similarly, “Bader Not Pout, Bader Not Cry” is a play on the words to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” which, again, goes with the fact it’s about Christmas and a man who is derived from a Catholic bishop.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with cards that are a little more ambiguous about the holiday. A card that has Ginsburg in earmuffs wishing you a “Supreme Holiday” is nondenominational. Similarly, the card with Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and O’Connor sitting in front of a hanukkiyah and Christmas tree covers all the bases and feels like a great card to send to all of your feminist law nerds. And Hanukkah cards that feature RBG? Much like “I Dissent”-themed menorahs, not really my thing, but there’s an audience for that and it’s not inserting her into a holiday that leads to Evangelical Christians crying when the word Christmas isn’t put on Starbucks cups around November.
There is still a risk of using Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an icon in this manner. With this she becomes just a figure stripped of any of her complexities. Ginsburg was human and we must remember this. Like any human, there are errors that were made and decisions that seem a bit questionable. Having read plenty of Ginsburg’s Supreme Court decisions while in law school or seen opinions she signed onto, there are areas she was a bit lacking, such as Indigenous rights. Ginsburg was also good friend with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was often used by liberals as a shorthand for everything wrong with the court prior to the appointment of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Does that mean we should stop treating Ginsburg as a feminist trailblazer? No, but there’s a difference between respecting someone and admiring their work as opposed to beatifying them and behaving like a fan where the slightest criticism of that person is reflective of you as an individual.
Stanning a politician and engaging with them the way you would with a music group or a TV show leads to ignoring their shortcomings. This is even more dangerous with Supreme Court justices, as they aren’t even elected. Some justices can have surprising opinions and other justices may sign on to an opinion that seems backwards and will be studied in law school in the future as regrettable. Even as someone who watches Justice Sonia Sotomayor on “Sesame Street” when I’m feeling down, I know she’s human. She may write fiery dissents that lead to her being characterized as “lashing out” as opposed to the “Yaaaaas Queen!” rallying when Ginsburg authored a dissent, but Sotomayor is not a superhuman who will always be there to save the little guy.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating the late Justice Ginsburg. She was a trailblazer for women’s rights and Jewish women and her memory can be used to help spur us to fight for what is right. But turning her into an icon to be placed on Christmas cards both puts a Jewish woman at the center of a non-Jewish holiday and strips her legacy of any meaning. Maybe suggest your non-Jewish friends purchase a card focused on the latest pop culture obsession instead of one elevating the late Supreme Court justice.