This review contains spoilers.

After a hugely successful and well-received first series, Call the Midwife returned for a one-off heart-warming festive episode, with a touching Christmas message at its heart.

Recounting Jenny Lee’s first Christmas in Poplar, the midwives are operating on the icy streets of 1950s London. The episode starts with a sense of urgency; a woman has gone into labour in a communal toilet cubicle. The setting highlights the crowded conditions and borderline poverty of the era and things seems chaotic until the midwives arrive. Their calming presence takes control of the situation, and this opening scene serves to remind audiences of the everyday miracle of birth, reiterated by older Jenny Lee’s narration.

The episode moves on quickly, with three very different storylines intertwining. There is a teenager who is secretly pregnant, resulting in an abandoned baby boy. Luckily the nuns take him in and look after him, but there is concern for the unknown mother’s vulnerable state after giving birth.

Jenny finds herself preoccupied in trying to help a mysterious homeless woman, Mrs Jenkins, who is haunted by the horrors she had experienced in the workhouses. Reluctant and untrusting, she lashes out at Jenny and the others who try to help her at first. However, true to her character, Jenny perseveres and soon wins her over and finds herself taking Mrs Jenkins’ awful past to her heart. On a mission to discover what happened to Mrs Jenkins’ children, Jenny unfortunately learns that there is no hope of reuniting them.

Despite the seriousness and sadness of these scenes, the show manages to balance this with a plot centring around Chummy’s attempts to put on the best nativity the parish hall has ever seen, after finding out last minute that the Mayor of Poplar will be in attendance. Initially, she is rather tentative when taking charge of the rowdy young boys in Cubs, and she faces some unexpected obstacles along the way. However, her confidence grows in the face of adversity, making her successes all the more satisfying to watch. The chemistry between Chummy and Peter allows this Christmas special to follow on nicely from the previous series. They demonstrate how their relationship has well and truly passed the awkward, flustered stages that provided comedy, but it is delightful to see that this has been replaced with a very supportive union.

This episode reaches a cheery conclusion for all involved; the nativity is a success, and abandoned baby and mother are reunited. Despite Jenny showing Mrs Jenkins’ the public grave where her children are buried in a emotional and touching scene, there is sense of closure and hope that Mrs Jenkins is comforted knowing her children did not suffer to the extent she did.

You can catch up with the episode here, and watch out for the new series coming to BBC 1 early in 2013.