Britain’s King Charles III delivered a message of empathy and unity, and paid homage to the past, in his first Christmas address as monarch — taking up a tradition associated with defining moments in the reign of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
The Christmas message, watched by millions in Britain and the Commonwealth nations, has been a fixture of Christmas Day for nearly a century and offers a lens into the royal family’s views on the state of the world. For Charles, it marks the end of a tumultuous year, in which his mother celebrated her platinum jubilee and died at age 96, and in which he ascended to the throne.
“Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones,” said Charles. “We feel their absence at every familiar turn of the season and remember them in each cherished tradition.”
Everything about the prerecorded five-minute address has a point, and royal watchers keep a close eye on what is said — or left unsaid — by the monarch.
The setting for Charles’s first go at the Christmas message was designed to display continuity from queen to heir, staged at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where his mother was buried just a few months ago, beside his father, Prince Philip.
In the seven decades in which Elizabeth delivered the broadcasts, they often took a religious tone.
Charles accepted the responsibilities conferred by his religious titles — the monarch is the head of the Church of England — without reservation, and he participated in a Christmas Day service at Sandringham on Sunday. But there are signs that Charles intends to bring a somewhat different vision of religion and spirituality to the role. In his message, he said: “While Christmas is, of course, a Christian celebration, the power of light overcoming darkness is celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief.”
The first royal Christmas message was broadcast via radio in 1932 by King George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather. Elizabeth took the tradition to television — and delivered a message every year of her reign except in 1969, when she apparently decided that the public had had enough of the royals after the BBC broadcast of a two-hour documentary that she found indulgent and intrusive.
The Christmas broadcasts have long served as a kind of annual summing-up about the doings of the royal family, including births, heirs, anniversaries, jubilees and deaths. Charles’s 2022 message — with its homage to his mother — was in keeping with the tradition.
But while Charles mentioned the public engagements of Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, he made no reference to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
The renegade pair — who resigned as “senior working royals” in 2020 and moved to California — had caused a public stir in recent weeks with a Netflix documentary series that claimed that palace operatives fed negative stories about Meghan to the news media. Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace said they would have no comment, and the king’s Christmas message suggested that they have no intention of changing course.
In her Christmas message last year, the queen skipped over the controversies that hit the family at the time, including allegations that Prince Andrew had engaged in sexual abuse, which he denies.
The Christmas messages, known for brevity, also tend to address major societal issues and have dealt with subjects including the Great Depression, the rise of Nazism, the threat of nuclear annihilation in the 1950s and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is one of the few public addresses that British monarchs usually write without government advice.
In his address, Charles referred to conflicts, famines and natural disasters that struck this year, but he made no direct reference to climate action — an issue that occupied him before he took the throne. As sovereign, he faces more expectations than before to refrain from sharing his personal views.
But the backdrop of Windsor Castle offered a message — to be decoded — of sustainability and of Charles’s love of nature, gardening, plants and the circle of life.
In a note to reporters, the palace said that the Christmas tree was “decorated with ornaments made from sustainable materials including paper and glass as well as natural products such as pine cones.”
The floral arrangements used “English foliage — holly, berried ivy and red skimmia,” and the tree was to be recycled to be viewed by holiday visitors to Windsor.