No Christmas day would be complete without the Queen’s Message, broadcasted to the whole Commonwealth of Nations and which has become as traditional as the decorated fir and the filled stocking.
Many times and from disparate soureces it has been underlined how the British Monarchy represents and assures a fundamental sense of continuity: the Royal Christmas Broadcast is probably the epitome of it.
The practice of addressing the subjects on Christmas day began with King George V (Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather) in 1932: curiously enough not by initiative of the King himself but as a way to inaugurate the BBC World Service. The first Royal Message, composed by no less than poet Rudyard Kipling, began with the significative words “I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all.”.
This much dictates the tone and the intent not only of King George V speech but of all the Christmas discourses to follow: it is in fact one of the few circumstances in which the Monarch addresses personally and freely to his/her subjects, without previous advice from Ministries. The typical pattern of the Royal Christmas message features a summary of the main events of the year with particular focus on Great Britain and the nations of the Commonwealth but it’s surely the mention of the Monarch’s more private feelings and concerns that makes the Christmas Broadcast so cherished by subjects and royal watchers alike.
Queen Elizabeth II masters perfectly the art of connecting to her subjects on a deeper, compassionate level, without any sentimentalism, contrary to the opinion that depicts her as a cold and distant Sovereign.
In the past sixty years she reflected on intimate events relating to the House of Windsor (births, weddings, deaths), she handled highly topical issues (Martin Luther King’s assassination, The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the 9/11 tragedy..) and also pioneered herself the attention to some emergent themes such as the role of women in society, modern technologies and religious diversity. In more recent times, The Queen’s genuine concern for her people’s issues is clearly witnessed by her mention of the current financial crisis and her repeated addressing to servicemen/women engaged in conflicts or missions overseas.
Incorporated in the prosaic structure of the Christmas Speech, poerty has more than once found a place, be it a recitation of Poets Laureate John Masefield and Alfred Tennyson or of the immortal William Blake, a quote from the hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise”, the beautiful “Prayer for Generosity” by St. Ignatius de Loyola or some verses from a carol dear to the Queen, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
No other speech from the Queen is so full of personal references and is heartfeltly and directly addressed to her subject with the intention of manifesting empathy in this significant time of the year: these features have positively contributed to help shape the face of the British monarchy as we perceive it nowadays.