For the first time, Queen Elizabeth celebrated Christmas without the faithful presence of her husband Prince Philip by her side. The Queen’s husband died in April 2021, one year after the beginning of the pandemic. For her official Christmas speech she wished to pay tribute to him in a message filled with emotion and affection: “Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones,” the queen said. “This year, especially, I understand why.” The queen’s message, recorded for broadcast on Christmas Eve, took on a personal dimension especially when the 95-year-old sovereign lamented the death of loved ones that has affected so many British families because of COVID. She was wearing a sapphire brooch of special significance on her dress, the jewel that she wore during the official photo taken in 1947 on the occasion of her honeymoon with Prince Philip.
In the present turmoil, the family remains an indispensably valuable touchstone, and with gratitude she referred to the Royal Family having been blessed with the birth of the fourth grandchildren this year. Queen Elizabeth reminded us in her speech of the importance of familiar gestures and age-old traditions that accompany the celebration of Christmas, such as singing carols, exchanging gifts, and decorating the Christmas tree. These markers are all the more important as many families are shaken and bereaved by illness. The joy of transmission is essential to keep hope alive. Great comfort can be drawn when one sees one’s own children appropriating in turn “the roles, traditions and values that mean so much to us.”
Beyond allusions to the pandemic, the Queen chose to pay tribute to childhood and its carefree nature, able to seek and find joy in all things. In a sober and discreet allusion, she recalled the original meaning of Christmas—namely the arrival of the baby Jesus in the manger: “[Children] teach us all a lesson—just as the Christmas story does—that in the birth of a child, there is a new dawn with endless potential.”
The Queen’s simple, effective but moving speech was widely followed by the British and the Commonwealth, but also by other countries because the Queen embodies for many people in the world a political and moral authority. Due to precautionary measures related to health concerns, the Queen of England did not celebrate Christmas in the residence of Sandrigham, the traditional place for family reunions, but at Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle was the object of an attack on Christmas morning by a 19-year-old Southampton man. Armed with a crossbow, the man was caught and taken into custody where he said he wanted to “assassinate the Queen.” The British tabloid The Sun published a video of him and posted on his Snapchat account in which he introduces himself as a Sikh Indian. He motivates his action by the desire to avenge a massacre committed in 1919 by British troops against demonstrators in India. The man has since been interned for psychiatric care.
Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).