Category Archives: Christmas

The Christmas Nativity

This year’s Christmas stamps from Royal Mail depict scenes from the Nativity of Jesus, which appears in both the Gospel of Luke and Matthew. The theme of Christmas stamps alternate each year between secular and religious subject matter, though it is not the first time The Nativity has featured.

Christmas Stamps revised artwork

Royal Mail Christmas Stamps The Nativity 2015

The stamps show the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the key characters present at the birth of Christ. In the gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem for the census and it is there in a barn that Jesus is born. Both stamps below depict the journey with Mary upon a donkey.

Christmas 13p Stamp (1979) Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem

Christmas 13p Stamp (1979) Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem

22p, Joseph and Mary arriving at Bethlehem from Christmas. Through The Eyes of a Child (1981)

22p, Joseph and Mary arriving at Bethlehem from Christmas. Through The Eyes of a Child (1981)

The Nativity image is recognisable to most with the family congregated around the baby Jesus in a manger. Though not mentioned in the New Testament, many animals are present in Nativity Scenes, some of which you may have played in a school Nativity yourself.

Luke 2:7 ‘And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’.

Christmas £1.00 Stamp (2015) The animals of the Nativity

The Shepherds in the Nativity story are visited by an Angel who informs them of the birth of Christ. You can see in the 4d stamp below the angel speak the words ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ which translates to ‘Glory to God in the Highest.’

Luke 2:15 ‘And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

5d, The Three Shepherds from Christmas (1969)

5d, The Three Shepherds from Christmas (1969)

Christmas 4d Stamp (1970) Sheperds and Apparition of the Angel

Christmas 4d Stamp (1970) Shepherds and Apparition of the Angel

In the Gospel of Matthew the Star of Bethlehem appears to the Three Magi, or Wise Men and leads them to the birth place of Christ. It is here that they give Jesus the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. In both below stamps you can make out the urns that transported these gifts.

Mathew 2:11 ‘And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh.’

£1.65, Wise men and star from Christmas (2011)

£1.65, Wise men and star from Christmas (2011)

26p, 'We Three Kings' from Christmas Carols (1982)

26p, ‘We Three Kings’ from Christmas Carols (1982)

Linking with the Nativity theme, the Madonna and Child have adorned stamps both in 2005 and 2013. Here you can see the painting of the ‘Virgin and Child with Saint John The Baptist’ c.1460-1480 attributed to Antoniazzo Romano.  This was a hugely popular compositional image in the Renaissance period and an extremely expensive commission with both gold leaf and Lapis Lazuli paint being used.

Christmas 2nd Large Stamp (2013) Madonna and Child

Christmas 2nd Large Stamp (2013) Madonna and Child

Angels have also appeared on numerous Christmas stamp issues, celebrating the intercessors between mankind and the heavens. Angels are often seen playing musical instruments such as the harp, trumpet and lyre, as you can see in the miniature sheet below.

Hark! The Herald Angel Sing, Christmas Miniature Sheet 2007

Hark! The Herald Angel Sing, Christmas Miniature Sheet 2007

Many of us will have taken part in a school Nativity play as an angel with a halo or a shepherd wearing your mum’s tea towel on your head. It’s a seasonal reminder to bring people together and the below stamps show the innocence of children in their leading roles.

Christmas Nativity Play First Day Cover 1994

Christmas Nativity Play First Day Cover 1994

Christmas Stamps are different each year but their use encourages communication in a season when we give thanks for those we have. I hope you enjoy this year’s collection and send them to those you love.

From all of us at The British Postal Museum and Archive we would like to wish you a Very Merry Christmas !

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Princess Mary Tin: Christmas on the front in 1914

In 1914 there was a popular view that the First World War, which had started on 4 August of that year, would ‘be over by Christmas’. As December rapidly approached however it was clear that the war would last considerably longer. It was in this atmosphere that Princess Mary, the only daughter of George V, expressed her wish to send a Christmas present to ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’. To help achieve this, a Christmas Gift Fund was established on 14 October 1914, taking  Princess Mary’s name. The public were immediately receptive to the idea agreeing with the Princess that ‘we should all be happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning’.

Princess Mary photo and christmas card

Princess Mary photo and Christmas card.

The form the gift would take was finally agreed on as a box containing tobacco and cigarettes along with the accoutrements such as a pipe and lighter. The box also contained a photo of the young Princess and a Christmas card with the message ‘With Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year from The Princess Mary and Friends at Home’. Only a month after the fund had opened and with one month still to go until Christmas there was enough money left over to extend the gift scheme to every man ‘wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914’. A non-smoker’s version of the gift was developed with a khaki writing case containing pencil, paper and envelopes as well as the Christmas card and photograph mentioned above.  Religion was also taken into account so that everyone received a suitable present with tobacco being replaced by sweets and spices for Indian troops.

Non-smokers version - khaki writing case.

Non-smokers version – khaki writing case.

Many of the tins were kept as souvenirs and survive in families to this day. We are lucky enough to have two in the BPMA’s collection. One doesn’t have any of the contents remaining but the tin itself is a lovely item decorated with relief patterns including a side portrait of Princess Mary in the centre with a wreath with decorative ‘M’ either side. On six sides of the lid is lettering in vignettes showing the names of the allied forces: ‘Belgium’; ‘Japan’; ‘Russia’; ‘Montenegro’; ‘Servia’; ‘France’. The other is a new acquisition into our collection and includes the contents of tobacco and cigarettes. It belonged to Alfred Greenwood who served with the Royal Engineers and can be seen at our Last Post exhibition in Coalbrookdale until March 2015.

princess mary tin

Princess Mary tin.


Princess Mary tin and contents.

Princess Mary tin and contents.

In all almost 500,000 men received a gift from the Princess Mary fund and they have become treasured possessions and heirlooms for many families throughout the country and a reminder of the sacrifice that was being given at the time.

-Emma Harper, Curator

TALK: Glad Tidings: A history of the Christmas card

For our annual Christmas talk, we are welcoming Curator Steph Mastoris of the National Waterfront Museum. As a social history curator he has been fascinated for over two decades by the custom of sending Christmas greetings to family and friends, and the billions of cards that are produced. Get a sneak peak at what to expect from his Christmas talk next Tuesday.


The Christmas card has been very close to the heart of the British postal service from just after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Moreover, the Half-Penny Post of 1870 was an important catalyst for the widespread popularity of the Christmas card. Starting as a wealthy middle class novelty, the tradition of sending Christmas cards became and still is a massive activity.


In my talk I will discuss how very recent research is suggesting that the first published Christmas cards were produced some years before the famous one commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843.


As the history of the Christmas card is fundamentally about how people have used them, I will talk about projects that look into how we use the postal service over the holiday season. One of the current projects, People’s Post, gives you the chance to share your memories of receiving cards and gifts in the post. After the talk, there will be an opportunity for the audience to contribute their stories. The information provided may well get built into the interpretation of the new Postal Museum when it opens in 2016!

Join us next Tuesday (2 December) at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more!

The Twelve Days of Christmas on the Mail Rail

Follow @postalheritage #MailRail over Christmas to see some festive paintings from the Mail Rail tunnels.

BackgroundMail Rail staff worked 6-days a week and 22-hours a day in the lead up to Christmas. During the 80s, families of staff were invited to a Christmas party down in the tunnels – a reward for their hardwork. The tunnels and platforms were transformed with snow machines and lights.

8. Maids A-Milking_web_copy1

‘Eight Maids a Milking’

Children could then ride to another platform where Father Christmas would be waiting with gifts at the end. Along the tunnel walls, the Twelve Days of Christmas were painted for passengers to view as they rode past.

12. Drummers Drumming_web_copy1

‘Twelve Drummers Drumming’

Follow #MailRail: To celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, we will be tweeting a painting a day beginning with ‘A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ on Christmas Day. Follow @postalheritage #MailRail over the holiday season to see more of these spectacular images.