MixedBlessing.com Holiday Cards Featured in The News & Observer

MixedBlessing.com Featured in The News & Observer

The News & Observer, December 15, 2006

Cards Blend the Holidays
Raleigh Couple Sell Interfaith Greetings

Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer

Growing up Jewish in New York City, Philip and Elise Okrend celebrated Hanukkah without giving much thought to Christmas.

But suddenly everyone they knew was in an interfaith relationship. There was David who was Jewish, and his girlfriend, Pat, who was Roman Catholic — Elise’s good friends at the advertising agency where she worked. Then there were their classmates from Binghamton University — all intermarried. And their cousins. Even Elise’s brother.

The question, “What do we do about this year’s holiday cards?” became particularly thorny

An art major in college, Elise Okrend decided to draw an interfaith card — a Jewish star with one side resembling a Christmas tree. Inside it read “Happy Holidays.”

From that first interfaith card has grown a business. Mixed Blessing is an interfaith and multicultural holiday card company with about 50 designs.

Our business is about helping people find a solution for the holiday season,” says Elise Okrend, who runs the business out of her North Raleigh home. “We’re giving them a solution that’s dignified, fun and creative.

Nearly half of American Jews marry outside the faith, and sending a Christmas card or a Hanukkah card to an interfaith couple can be a recipe for offense. Sending a photo of a winter scene is safe but generic

The Okrends wanted to pay their respects to both faiths — recognizing each as valid and, beyond that, celebrating the tolerance they think makes this country great.

Cards Elise Okrend has designed over the years include this year’s best-seller — a family of penguins with a baby penguin holding a candelabrum and the other baby penguin standing beside a Christmas tree. Another card features three homes with smoke coming out of each chimney to form “peace.”

The Okrends started their business in 1989 with 1,000 copies of Elise’s original drawing, and they expect to sell 300,000 cards this year. The cards are available at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, at NoFo in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood and online at www.mixedblessing.com.

The Okrends acknowledge their interfaith cards can be controversial. When they started the business, some Jewish groups accused them of promoting intermarriage or trying to blend the two holidays.

The couple disagree.

We’re not creating a new holiday,” Elise Okrend says.

She points out there are no baby-in-the-manger scenes and no action figures of the Maccabees, the heroes of the Hanukkah story. Instead, they emphasize the two holidays’ more secular qualities: Santa Claus and dreidels, cookies and latkes.

Still, the couple acknowledge the December holidays are a challenge. Christmas, with its trees, carols, gifts and home decorations, seems to overwhelm the more modest Hanukkah celebrations

How can you not like Christmas?” asks Philip Okrend, who works as a business coach helping professionals with their transition to new jobs

Hanukkah, which commemorates a Jewish rebellion against foreign rulers more than 2,000 years ago, celebrates the military victory of a band of Jewish guerrilla fighters who drove their Syrian overlords out of Jerusalem. They then rededicated the temple to the Jewish God after it had been defiled with a statue of Zeus.

It’s a festival that commemorates the rejection of assimilation into a broader culture,” says David Halperin, a retired professor of religion at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Yet it’s observed in a way that bears witness to assimilation. That’s the wonderful thing about Hanukkah. It conveys both messages at once.”

To the Okrends, the forcible denial of one’s faith years ago bears little resemblance to today’s need for interfaith acceptance.

Our goal is to move people to a place where we hope the world will go — tolerance and diversity,” Philip Okrend says. “Otherwise we’ll destroy ourselves.”

Tonight at dusk, the couple will gather in the living room of their home to light the first candles of Hanukkah and exchange gifts with their two sons, Jordan, 15, and Joshua, 11. They’ll make latkes, maybe even pull out the dreidel.

All the while, they’ll know they’ve made an effort to respect their many family and friends celebrating other traditions