For the past 70 years, wedged in somewhere between that first leftover-turkey sandwich and the Boxing Day Test, the Queen’s Christmas speech formed an intrinsic part of many Australians’ festive celebrations.
Now, for the first time in most of our lifetimes, our longest-serving monarch is gone, and we have been left to wonder about the observations King Charles would have of this turbulent year.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas Broadcast often brought stability to a Commonwealth rocked by war, natural disaster and political upheaval, to say nothing of the ructions in the monarchy itself.
It was one of the rare occasions when The Queen did not speak on government advice. Instead, she gave her own views on events and developments of concern both to her personally and to the wider general public and Commonwealth.
For The Queen, the Broadcast was not simply a duty to be fulfilled, but an opportunity to speak directly to the public, to react to their concerns and to thank and reassure them.
History of the Christmas Broadcast
The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by George V in 1932.
The relatively untried medium of radio relayed The King’s message to the Empire from a small office at Sandringham to an audience of 20 million at 3.05 pm on Christmas Day 1932, a tradition carried on by his youngest son King George VI until his death and subsequently by his grand-daughter Queen Elizabeth II.
In her first Christmas message in 1952, The Queen spoke of carrying on the tradition passed on to her by the late King. This extended to using the same desk and chair as her father and grandfather had done before her.
The first televised message was broadcast live in 1957. The advent of television during The Queen’s reign gave an added dimension, allowed viewers to see the monarch in her own residence, decorated for Christmas like many homes across the world.
The location was usually Buckingham Palace, although recordings recordings were also made at Windsor and Sandringham. Footage from the year’s royal events is often shown, enabling the public to see the highlights of the year.
From 1960, Broadcasts were recorded in advance so that the tapes could be sent around the world to Commonwealth countries, to be broadcast at a convenient local time.
Here in Australia, we see the Christmas message on Boxing Day at about 3pm, depending on the time zone.
The Queen was always conscious of her role as Head of the Armed Forces in her Christmas Broadcasts, and often spoke of British and Commonwealth troops serving overseas over the Christmas period and their families.
In 1990, The Queen spoke of the threat of war in the Middle East, and again as conflict continued in 2003, a special Broadcast from the Household Cavalry Barracks in Windsor was arranged at her request:
I want to draw attention to the many servicemen and women who are stationed far from home this Christmas. I’m thinking about their wives and children and about their parents and friends.
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, 2003
As the Christmas Broadcast was her own personal message to the nation, The Queen occasionally shared personal family details with her listeners.
In her 1990 Christmas broadcast, she spoke of the happy family events which had taken place that year, including the celebration of her mother’s 90th birthday and the christening of Princess Eugenie.
In 2002, also a Jubilee year, she spoke of her grief at the death of The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, thanking the public for their messages of support.
In each of her Jubilee years – 1977, 2002 and 2012 The Queen used the Christmas Broadcast to thank the public for their part in the festivities. In 2012 she said:
This past year has been one of great celebration for many. The enthusiasm which greeted the Diamond Jubilee was, of course, especially memorable for me and my family. It was humbling that so many chose to mark the anniversary of a duty which passed to me sixty years ago.
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, 2012
The monarch’s final address to her public was on Christmas Day in 2021. Ahead of her Platinum Jubilee in 2022, The Queen spoke of her grief at the loss of her “beloved” Prince Philip and her sadness for those who had also lost loved ones, her anticipation for the Commonwealth Games, and her gratitude for 70 years on the throne.
She was still full of hope for the future.
- Even with one familiar laugh missing this year, there will be joy in Christmas, as we have the chance to reminisce, and see anew the wonder of the festive season through the eyes of our young children, of whom we were delighted to welcome four more this year.They 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 Christmas Broadcast, 2021
Technological advances mean that viewers have a choice to watch on television, via radio or internet. While it’s now more accessible than ever, the timing of the Christmas Broadcast remains at 3.00pm as a fixed point in the schedule every year.
Transcripts from all the previous Christmas Broadcasts are available here.
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