King Charles paid tribute to the long public service and deep faith of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in his first Christmas message as monarch.
The King recorded the speech in the quire of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, not far from where the Queen was buried in September next to her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones,” the King said. He referred to the carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ and added: “We sing of how ‘in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.’ My mother’s belief in the power of that light was an essential part of her faith in God, but also her faith in people – and it is one which I share with my whole heart.”
The King, 74, acceded to the throne on Sept. 8 upon the death of his mother at the age of 96. She had reigned for 70 years, longer than any British monarch in history.
Beyond the tribute to his mother, the King kept his remarks relatively brief and concentrated on familiar themes of giving and helping one another. He acknowledged the “great anxiety and hardship” for those around the world who are facing “conflict, famine or natural disaster, or for those at home finding ways to pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm.”
In something of a departure from Elizabeth, who kept her speeches focused mainly on the Christian meaning of Christmas, the King offered a more inclusive message and spoke about other faiths.
“While Christmas is, of course, a Christian celebration, the power of light overcoming darkness is celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief,” he said.
He paid tribute to charities and volunteers who help those in need. “Our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras have once again united in feeding the hungry, providing love and support throughout the year,” he added. “Such heartfelt solidarity is the most inspiring expression of loving our neighbour as ourself.”
The King has long been interested in other religions. But one of his duties as King is to be “defender of the faith” and supreme governor of the Church of England.
In 1994, then-Prince Charles caused controversy by saying that he would rather be seen as “defender of faith.” He later remarked that “as far as the role of the Church of England is concerned, it is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
During his Christmas speech, the King recalled his trip to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity two years ago during a historic visit to the Palestinian territories. “It meant more to me than I can possibly express to stand on that spot where, as the Bible tells us, ‘the light that has come into the world’ was born,” he said. “So, whatever faith you have, or whether you have none, it is in this life-giving light, and with the true humility that lies in our service to others, that I believe we can find hope for the future. Let us therefore celebrate it together and cherish it always.”
The King spent Christmas Day at the royal estate at Sandringham, in Norfolk, where the Royal Family traditionally gathers for the holiday. The King led the family’s walk to nearby St. Mary Magdalene Church for the morning service. He was joined by Camilla, the Queen Consort, as well as the Prince and Princess of Wales, their children and other senior royals. This was the first time the family had celebrated Christmas at Sandringham since 2019, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tradition of the monarch’s Christmas broadcast dates from 1932, when King Charles’s great-grandfather, King George V, addressed Britain and the British Empire by radio. Queen Elizabeth II delivered her first message in 1952 and made her first television broadcast in 1957.