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Monaco

03 November 2020

Christmas 2020

Monaco: Christmas 2020, 3 November 2020. Images from Offices des Timbres.

Technical Specifications:

Part: Second semester
Year: 2020
Design: Marie-Christine LEMAYEUR and Bernard ALUNNI
Printing process: Offset and gold tooling
Issue date: 3 November 2020
Size of the stamp: 40,85 x 30 mm horizontal
Quantity of issue: 55 000 stamps
Note: Sheet of 10 stamps with illuminations

The stamp depicts the Adoration of the Magi. The visit of the Kings during the nativity of Christ is a hugely popular iconographic theme in Christianity.

The Adoration of the Magi or Adoration of the Kings is the name traditionally given to the subject in the Nativity of Jesus in art in which the three Magi, represented as kings, especially in the West, having found Jesus by following a star, lay before him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and worship him. It is related in the Bible by Matthew 2:11: “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path”.

Christian iconography has considerably expanded the bare account of the Biblical Magi given in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (2:1–22) and used it to press the point that Jesus was recognized, from his earliest infancy, as king of the earth. The scene was often used to represent the Nativity, one of the most indispensable episodes in cycles of the Life of the Virgin as well as the Life of Christ.

In the church calendar, the event is commemorated in Western Christianity as the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). The Orthodox Church commemorates the Adoration of the Magi on the Feast of the Nativity (December 25). The term is anglicized from the Vulgate Latin section title for this passage: A Magis adoratur.

In the earliest depictions, the Magi are shown wearing Persian dress of trousers and Phrygian caps, usually in profile, advancing in step with their gifts held out before them. These images adapt Late Antique poses for barbarians submitting to an Emperor, and presenting golden wreaths, and indeed relate to images of tribute-bearers from various Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern cultures going back many centuries. The earliest are from catacomb paintings and sarcophagus reliefs of the 4th century. Crowns are first seen in the 10th century, mostly in the West, where their dress had by that time lost any Oriental flavour in most cases. The standard Byzantine depiction of the Nativity included the journey or arrival of the mounted Magi in the background, but not them presenting their gifts, until the post-Byzantine period, when the western depiction was often adapted to an icon style. Later Byzantine images often show small pill-box like hats, whose significance is disputed.

The Magi are usually shown as the same age until about this period, but then the idea of depicting the three ages of man is introduced: a particularly beautiful example is seen on the façade of the cathedral of Orvieto. Occasionally from the 12th century, and very often in Northern Europe from the 15th, the Magi are also made to represent the three known parts of the world: Balthasar is very commonly cast as a young African or Moor, and old Caspar is given Oriental features or, more often, dress. Melchior represents Europe and middle age. From the 14th century onward, large retinues are often shown, the gifts are contained in spectacular pieces of goldsmith work, and the Magi’s clothes are given increasing attention. By the 15th century, the Adoration of the Magi is often a bravura piece in which the artist can display their handling of complex, crowded scenes involving horses and camels, but also their rendering of varied textures: the silk, fur, jewels and gold of the Kings set against the wood of the stable, the straw of Jesus’s manger and the rough clothing of Joseph and the shepherds.

The scene often includes a fair diversity of animals as well: the ox and ass from the Nativity scene are usually there, but also the horses, camels, dogs, and falcons of the kings and their retinue, and sometimes other animals, such as birds in the rafters of the stable. From the 15th century onwards, the Adoration of the Magi is quite often conflated with the Adoration of the Shepherds from the account in the Gospel of Luke (2:8–20), an opportunity to bring in yet more human and animal diversity; in some compositions (triptychs for example), the two scenes are contrasted or set as pendants to the central scene, usually a Nativity.

The “adoration” of the Magi at the crib is the usual subject, but their arrival, called the “Procession of the Magi”, is often shown in the distant background of a Nativity scene (usual in Byzantine icons), or as a separate subject, for example in the Magi Chapel frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence. Other subjects include the Journey of the Magi, where they and perhaps their retinue are the only figures, usually shown following the Star of Bethlehem, and there are relatively uncommon scenes of their meeting with Herod and the Dream of the Magi.

The usefulness of the subject to the Church and the technical challenges involved in representing it have made the Adoration of the Magi a favorite subject of Christian art: chiefly painting, but also sculpture and even music (as in Gian-Carlo Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors). The subject matter is also found in stained glass. The first figural stained glass window made in the United States is the “Adoration of the Magi” window located at Christ Church, Pelham, New York and designed in 1843 by the founder and first rector’s son, William Jay Bolton.


For over seven centuries, Monaco has created its own traditions, carefully observed by Monegasque families. Most of these traditions are related to religious holidays, including the celebration of Christmas.

In Monaco, Christmas Eve brings the entire family together. With festive décor illuminating the entire Principality, and specialty foods on offer, it’s a perfect opportunity to share warm moments with your loved ones.

The Pan de Natale is a one of the oldest Monegasque traditions, specially consecrated during Christmas Mass. A round, sweet bread with four to seven hazelnuts and an olive branch stacked in the form of a cross is a must for the Christmas table. The Pan de Natale is traditionally blessed by the head of the family, as well as during Midnight Mass at the Cathedral on Christmas Eve. At the end of the Mass, during the Offering, the Archbishop of Monaco symbolically blesses all the breads that will be shared at family tables that evening or during Christmas dinner.

Like many ancient traditions, it has been at risk of extinction. However, the Monaco Committee on Traditions is trying to revive it in cooperation with local bakeries, selling this special sweet bread a few days before Christmas. The tradition of the Pan de Natale is one of the main foundations of the Monegasque identity and by hosting the Pan de Natale in Town Hall, the Communal Council renews its attachment to Monegasque traditions.

Another ancient Christmas tradition involves an olive branch: the olive branch blessing. Before sitting down to a traditional Christmas table, the youngest or the oldest guest would dip an olive branch into a glass of wine, go up to the fireplace and make a prayer and the sign of a cross. All the other guests would then drink their wine and sit down to the bountiful table, both refined and generous. And no Monegasque Christmas feast would be complete without turkey and foie gras!

Chocolate, white and black hazelnut nougat, pine nuts and pistachios are also on the table for the children’s delight. Traditional entertainment included raffles and other games.

Another interesting Christmas tradition is that of thirteen desserts, served in honour of Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles. One of them would be the “4 Beggars”, symbolizing different Catholic orders bound by a vow of poverty: Hazelnuts and walnuts for the Augustinians; dried figs for the Franciscans; almonds for the Carmelites and raisins for the Dominicans. The main dessert, however, is La Pompe, a type of sweet focaccia made with flour, olive oil, sugar, and orange flower essence. Traditionally, it is not cut with a knife, but broken by hand, just as Christ broke his bread. If it is done in any other way, it is said that financial ruin is to be expected in the coming year.

The 13 desserts are particularly popular in Provence. Here is how Marie Gasquet describes the Provencal Christmas dinner in her novel, Childhood in Provence:

It has to be thirteen desserts, thirteen plates full of sweets – twelve of them filled with fruits from the fields and gardens, and the thirteenth, the most beautiful, full of dates to the brim.

Full Sheet of 10 Stamps:

First Day Cover:

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