Nativity theme on Royal Mail's Christmas stamps

The Royal Mail's 2011 Christmas stamps
Image caption The last posting date for first class mail in 20 December

The Royal Mail has issued its Christmas stamps, which this year feature pictures of the Nativity.

The seven stamps include images of Mary, the baby Jesus and Joseph visited by the Angel Gabriel.

The company said the stamps were inspired by verses from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Around two billion items are expected to be posted over the Christmas period, including 130 million on the busiest days, twice as many as normal.

Stephen Agar from Royal Mail said: "Christmas stamps help deliver festive messages of good cheer and celebration across the UK and around the world.

"This year's stamps feature scenes from the Nativity, together with the Gospel references from the King James Bible which inspired them."

He encouraged people to post cards early to help the company spread its Christmas workload.

Last posting dates for UK deliveries are 17 December for second-class mail, 20 December for first-class and 22 December for special deliveries.

Last year's Christmas stamps featured animated characters Wallace & Gromit. Royal Mail's policy for its official Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes each year - but non-secular festive issues are always available.

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