A Mulberry advert which likened the gift of a handbag to the birth of baby Jesus has escaped a ban by regulators despite dozens of complaints from Christians who said it was blasphemous. The tongue-in-cheek YouTube advert featured a couple exchanging gifts in a fake nativity scene.

The woman opens her gift to find a red Mulberry handbag, prompting her to declare: "It's the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life." Two shepherds and three "wise" men wearing crown paper hats and carrying gifts then arrive unannounced to celebrate the arrival of the handbag, describing it as a "thing of wonder". The slogan #MulberryMiracle was used alongside the promotion.

42 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), saying the advert was offensive to Christians "because it replaced the baby Jesus with a handbag". They also said it "undermined central messages of their faith", that the nativity scene was being "used for the purpose of consumerism", and that it was blasphemous.

But Mulberry said it saw offence as a "subjective concept" and deemed the advert a "light hearted" take on the nativity scene. The company also believed the comment made by the man towards the end of the advert – "Guys, it's just a bag" – made it clear no comparison with the baby Jesus was intended. They added that the promotion had seen a "number of positive responses".

In a ruling issued on 23 December, the ASA dismissed the complaints and said Mulberry could continue to show the advert. It said the the promotion was likely to be interpreted by viewers as "playful" and a "humorous reference to consumerism".

It added: "We acknowledged that the ad might not be to everyone's taste, but considered most viewers would understand it as a light hearted take on the Nativity story, intended to poke fun at the effect of consumerism on Christmas rather than mocking or denigrating Christian belief. Because of that, we considered the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence."

YouTube said it had also reviewed the video and had found it did not violate its own guidelines.