WATCH: Christmas stamps launched today

Festive family traditions are featured on this year’s Royal Mail Christmas stamps.

The five stamps, launched today, depict various traditions – from carol singing and ice skating to posting cards, making snowmen and buying trees.

One of the 2014 Christmas stamps.

One of the 2014 Christmas stamps.

Andrew Hammond, Royal Mail stamps spokesman, said: “Christmas is a stamp issue we particularly look forward to and the charming style of these designs sets the perfect tone for the festive season.”

The tradition of sending festive greetings by card was established in 1843 through the introduction of the world’s first commercially produced Christmas cards.

The cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole who just three years earlier had played a key role in helping introducing Royal Mail’s Penny Post service. Only 1,000 of these cards were printed.

Royal Mail’s postmen and women were also responsible for the ever-popular robin gracing the front of cards.

During the mid-1800s the postman’s uniform included a bright red waistcoat to match the official red of pillar boxes. The striking uniform resulted in postmen being referred to as robin redbreasts and the robin being introduced to Christmas cards as a symbol of the postmen who delivered the cards.

Postboxes were first trialled in the UK in 1852 and were green in colour. After complaints by the public that the boxes could not be located as they blended into the landscape, they were painted red in 1874.

Royal Mail first produced special stamps for Christmas in 1966 when they ran a competition on BBC’s Blue Peter giving children the opportunity to design the stamps. Children have designed the Christmas special stamp only twice since then - in 1981 and 2013.

Royal Mail’s Christmas stamps feature secular and religious imagery in alternate years. However, to provide choice for customers, 1st and 2nd Class Madonna and Child stamps, are also available from today in 8,000 Post Offices and online at www.royalmail.com/christmas2014 and by phone on 03457 641641.

Last posting dates for delivery within the UK:

2nd Class, Thursday, December 18

1st Class, Saturday, December 20

Special Delivery, Tuesday, December 23

Last posting dates for international mail:

Airmail to Asia, Far East (including Japan), New Zealand: Wednesday, December 3

Airmail to Australia: Thursday, December 4

Airmail to South and Central America, Caribbean, Africa, Middle East: Friday, December 5

Airmail to Cyprus, Eastern Europe, Greece: Monday, December 8

Airmail to Canada and Poland: Tuesday, December 9

Airmail to USA, International Standard to static BFPOs: Friday, December 12

Airmail to Western Europe (excluding Greece, Poland): Saturday, December 13