Tag Archives: Bethlehem

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

2009 Christmas Stamps

Royal Mail has today released this year’s Christmas stamps, a set of seven adhesive stamps designed by Andrew Ross, featuring stained-glass windows produced in the 19th Century. It has generally been the tradition for British Christmas stamps to alternate between religious and more secular themes, and these stamps come on the back of last year’s Christmas pantomime stamps.

2009 Christmas stamps

2009 Christmas stamps

Perhaps surprisingly, stained-glass windows have only appeared on Christmas stamps twice before, in 1971 and 1992. The 1971 stamps were designed by Collis Clements who had submitted his original designs to the Stamp Advisory Committee for the 1970 Christmas stamps.

Collis Clement's 1970 Christmas stamp designs

Collis Clement's 1970 Christmas stamp designs

While designs by Sally Stiff were chosen in 1970, Clement’s were held over for 1971 and were judged to be better than those submitted by other designers in that year.

Collis Clement's 1971 Christmas stamps

Collis Clement's 1971 Christmas stamps

As Clement’s stamps depicted scenes from a 12th century stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral the Post Office decided to provide a special pictorial postmark at Canterbury. It was circular, 15/16 inches in diameter, with the Cathedral as a central motif.

2009 Christmas postmark from Bethlehem

2009 Christmas postmark from Bethlehem

First day of issue (FDI) postmarks for ‘Bethlehem, Llandeilo, Carms’ had become popular with collectors since the first British Christmas stamps were issued in 1966 and for the Christmas 1970 stamps the Post Office provided a pictorial FDI postmark at this location. The pictorial postmark had been considered a success by the Post Office and was repeated in 1971 with a different design, this time showing a star-shaped snowflake motif to the left of a circular datestamp, 2¾ inches by 15/16 inches. The tradition of a FDI postmark for Bethlehem continues to this day, with a stained-glass window-style “praying hands” design available this year.

The 1992 stained glass Christmas stamps were designed by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell who have worked on a number of projects for Royal Mail including the Millennium series (1999-2000), Machin stamp books, the Microcosmos Prestige Stamp Book (2003) and Sounds of Britain (2006). Like this year’s Christmas stamps, the 1992 issue featured stained-glass windows from a variety of churches around Britain.

1992 Christmas stamps by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell

1992 Christmas stamps by Carroll, Dempsey and Thirkell

The 2009 Christmas stamps are now available from http://www.royalmail.com/stamps