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.
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.
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’.
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.”
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.’
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.
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.
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 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