The traditional Christmas message, seen by millions in Britain and the Commonwealth nations, has been a regular part of Christmas Day for almost a century and provides an insight into the royal family’s view of the state of the world. For Charles, it marks the end of a tumultuous year, during which his mother celebrated her platinum jubilee and died aged 96, and during which he ascended to the throne.
“Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones,” Charles said. “We feel their absence at every known turn of the year and remember them in every cherished tradition.”
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Everything about the pre-recorded five-minute address has a point, and royal watchers are paying close attention to what is said – or not said – by the monarch.
The setting for Charles’ first time at the Christmas message was designed to show continuity from Queen to heir, staged in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where his mother was buried just months apart, next to his father, Prince Philip.
During the seven decades Queen Elizabeth II delivered the broadcasts, they often took a religious tone.
Charles accepted the responsibilities conferred by his religious titles – the monarch is head of the Church of England – without reservation, and he attended a Christmas Day service at Sandringham on Sunday. But there are signs that Charles intends to bring a somewhat different view of religion and spirituality to the role. In his message, he said: “While Christmas is of course a Christian celebration, the power of light that overcomes darkness is celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief.”
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The first royal Christmas message was broadcast via radio in 1932 by King George V. Elizabeth took the tradition to television – delivering one every year of her reign except for 1969, when she apparently decided the public had had enough of the royals after the BBC broadcast a two-hour documentary that she found indulgent and intrusive.
The Christmas broadcasts have long served as a sort of annual summary of the royal family’s doings, including births, heirs, anniversaries, anniversaries and deaths. Charles’ 2022 message – paying tribute to his mother – was in keeping with tradition.
But while Charles mentioned the public engagements of Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, he did not refer to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
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The renegade couple – who stepped down 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 palace workers fed negative stories about Meghan to the news media. Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace said they would not comment, and the king’s Christmas message on Sunday suggested they have no intention of changing course.
In her Christmas message last year, the Queen skipped over the controversies surrounding the family at the time, including allegations that Prince Andrew had engaged in sexual abuse, which he denies.
Known for their brevity, the Christmas messages also tend to address major societal issues and have dealt with topics 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 remarks that British monarchs usually write without government advice.
In his speech on Sunday, Charles referred to conflicts, famine and natural disasters that hit this year, but he did not refer directly to climate action – an issue that preoccupied him before taking 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 Charles’ love of nature, gardening, plants and the circle of life.
In a note to reporters, the palace said 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, berry ivy and red skimmia”, and the tree was to be recycled to be seen by holiday visitors to Windsor.