The Queen’s Christmas Message, broadcast on television, radio, and the internet on Christmas Day, is a staple of the royal calendar. It is a tradition started by her grandfather, King George V and continued by her father, King George VI via radio broadcast. It wasn’t until the 1957 Christmas Message that they became televised.
King George V delivered the first Christmas Message in 1932 (fun fact: it was written by author Rudyard Kipling) and spoke of the technology that made him “enabled, this Christmas Day, to speak to all my peoples throughout the Empire. I take it as a good omen that Wireless should have reached its present perfection at a time when the Empire has been linked in closer union. For it offers us immense possibilities to make that union closer still.”
King George VI delivered radio speeches each Christmas and spoke each year of the Second World Ward. In 1939 he talked about the War, stating, “A new year is at hand. We cannot tell which it will bring. If it brings peace how thankful we shall all be. If it brings continued struggle, we shall remain undaunted.”
Having read the transcript for each of Her Majesty’s speeches, recurring themes pop out. The Queen always makes a point to show her sympathy to those who are less fortunate, or who have suffered tragedies that year. She always mentions the unity of the Commonwealth, and she always mentions personal highlights from the year.
As we look forward to the Queen’s Christmas Message for 2017 and speculate what she’ll say, let’s look back.
Here are the Top Five Christmas Messages of Her Reign:
- December 25, 1952 – The First Message
The Queen ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952, upon the death of her father. Her first Christmas Message was broadcast over radio, and she spoke from the same desk her father and grandfather had used to deliver their messages.
In the Message, she spoke of the Commonwealth and her upcoming coronation (June 1953), saying:
“At my Coronation next June, I shall dedicate myself anew to your service. I shall do so in the presence of a great congregation, drawn from every part of the Commonwealth and Empire, while millions outside Westminster Abbey will hear the promises and prayers being offered up within its walls, and see much of the ancient ceremony in which Kings and Queens before me have taken part through century upon century.”
This circled back to the speech she gave on her 21st birthday in South Africa when she declared that “my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
“You will be keeping it as a holiday,” the Queen’s Christmas Message continues, “but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”
- December 25, 1957 – The First Televised Christmas Message
The first time the Queen’s Christmas Message was broadcast on television by the BBC, it was interrupted by a condition caused by sunspots interfering with the transmissions, and listeners heard at one point an American police officer saying “Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee.”
It was also the 25th anniversary of the Christmas Message, and the Queen spoke of the marvels of technology, saying “…television has made it possible for many of you to see me in your homes on Christmas Day. My own family often gather round to watch television as they are this moment, and that is how I imagine you feel now.”
She spoke as well of how the monarchy has changed, saying “In the old days the monarch led his soldiers on the battlefield and his leadership at times was close and personal. Today things are different. I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the people of our brotherhood of nations.”
- December 25, 1992 – The Queen’s ‘Annus Horribilis’
If you were to compile a list of the Queen’s most important quotes, it would be incomplete without her lament, in a speech at Guildhall to celebrate 40 years on the throne, that 1992 was her ‘Annus Horribilis’.
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure,” the Queen quipped. “In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an ‘Annus Horribilis.’ I suspect that I am not alone in thinking it so.”
That year alone, the Prince and Princess of Wales separated after an acrimonious 10-year-marriage (private phone calls were released to the public, and Andrew Morton’s book, written with cooperation from Diana was published that year); the Duke and Duchess of York separated; Princess Anne divorced her first husband and remarried one of the Queen’s former equerries; and her beloved Windsor Castle caught fire and destroyed parts of the building.
Still, when it came time to deliver her Christmas Message, the Queen simply stated, “Like many other families, we have lived through some difficult days this year.”
“It has touched me deeply that much of this has come from those of you who have troubles of your own.”
- December 25, 2002 – Fifty Golden Years
The Queen celebrated a rare milestone with her Golden Jubilee, but the year wasn’t all celebratory. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret passed away within weeks of each other at the start of the year, and the Queen spoke of this in her Message.
“Many of you will know only too well from your own experience, the grief that follows the death of a much loved mother or sister. Mine were very much part of my life and always gave me their support and encouragement. But my own sadness was tempered by the generous tributes that so many of you paid to the service they gave to this country and the wider Commonwealth.”
The Queen spoke of her Golden Jubilee, saying:
“In a different way I felt that the Golden Jubilee was more than just an anniversary. The celebrations were joyous occasions, but they also seemed to evoke something more lasting and profound – a sense of belong and pride in country, town, or community; a sense of sharing a common heritage enriched by the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of our twenty-first century.”
She closed by saying, “Fortified by…the support you have given throughout the last twelve months which has meant so much to me, I look forward to the New Year, to facing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and to continuing to serve you to the very best of my ability each and every day.”
- December 25, 2012 – Sixty Golden Years
Only two monarchs can boast that they served at least sixty years on the British throne: Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, who celebrated this milestone in 2012. Amidst the celebrations for her Diamond Jubilee was also the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, held in London, and the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting their first child in 2013.
“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. People of all ages took the trouble to take part in various ways and in many nations. But perhaps most striking of all was to witness the strength of fellowship and friendship among those who had gathered together on these occasions.”
The Queen said of the Olympics and Paralympics, “As London hosted a splendid summer of sport, all those who saw the achievement and courage at the Olympic and Paralympic Games were further inspired by the skill, dedication, training and teamwork of our athletes. In pursuing their own sporting goals, they gave the rest of us the opportunity to share something of the excitement and drama.”
1953 – The Only Christmas Message Delivered Overseas
The Queen and Prince Philip were on a long tour of the Commonwealth after her coronation, and so the Queen’s Christmas Message in 1953 was delivered from Auckland, New Zealand.
The Queen spoke about missing her children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and commiserated with other families who were separated from their loved ones as well. She also spoke about her legendary predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, and those who considered this to be a new Elizabethan age.
“Frankly I do not myself feel at all like my great Tudor forbear, who was blessed with neither husband nor children, who ruled as a despot and was never able to leave her native shores.”
The Queen continued, “But there is at least one very significant resemblance between her age and mine. For her Kingdom, small though it may have been and poor by comparison with her European neighbours, was yet great in spirit and well endowed with men who were ready to encompass the earth.”
1958 – The Queen Cracks a Joke
While talking about all the various trips she and the Royal Family would be undertaking in 1959, the Queen quipped, “So, between us, we are going to many parts of the world. We have no plans for space travel – at the moment.”
1966 – Girl Power
The Queen devoted the majority of 1966’s Christmas Message to women, saying so directly, “This year I should like to speak especially to women.”
The Queen began by talking about the suffragettes, and how women had only been granted the right to vote 50 years prior (although Parliament had been asked to grant that right 100 years prior) but shifted to the resiliency of women and how they vitally contribute to the world.
“In spite of these disabilities, it has been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the harsh progress of mankind. The struggles against inhuman prejudice, against squalor, ignorance and disease, have always owed a great deal to the determination and tenacity of women.”
1976 – The Queen Goes to America (and cracks another joke)
The Queen and Prince Philip visited the United States of America to take part in bicentennial celebrations and brought up the trip in her Christmas Message.
“Who would have thought 200 years ago that a descendant of King George III could have taken part in these celebrations?”
1997 – The Death of Diana
The former Princess of Wales died in August that year, sparking an outpouring of grief so grand that it was almost unbelievable to watch.
“Thousands upon thousands of you expressed your grief most poignantly in the wonderful flowers and messages left in tribute to her. That was a great comfort to all those close to her, while people all around the world joined us here in Britain for that service in Westminster Abbey.”
1999 – A New Millennium
The Queen spoke of the past year, past century, and reflected on the millennium on the cusp of a new one, saying “More than ever we are aware of being a tiny part of the infinite sweep of time when we move from one century and one millennium to another.”
2014 – The Queen Wins the Game of Thrones
The Queen made a visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland earlier in 2014, and reflected upon the media attention to her visit.
“While my tour of the set of Game of Thrones may have gained most attention, my visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my mind.”
The Queen declined the opportunity to sit upon the Iron Throne, but that didn’t stop the “Windsor is Coming” memes.