In her first Christmas address to Britain since the death of her husband, Queen Elizabeth II offered a personal message on Saturday as the nation is again experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases as the pandemic enters its third year.
Since her husband, Prince Philip, died in April, Britons have been whiplashed by Covid. After prolonged restrictions, England reopened this summer to much rejoicing, but mere months later, many saw their plans upended again as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus took hold.
The royal family has also experienced its own turbulence. Concerns for the health of Queen Elizabeth, 95, have hung over much of the year, especially after she canceled a series public engagements this fall.
In her televised address on Saturday, the queen was seated at a desk in the White Drawing Room in Windsor Castle. Next to her was a photograph of her and Philip taken on their 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.
“Although it’s a time of great happiness and good cheer for many, Christmas can be hard for those who have lost loved ones,” the queen said. “This year, especially, I understand why.”
Referring to Philip, the queen said that she had “drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work — from around the country, the Commonwealth and the world.”
“But life, of course, consists of final partings as well as first meetings,” she said, “and as much as I and my family miss him, I know he would want us to enjoy Christmas.”
The royal holiday message is an annual British tradition that began in 1932 with a radio broadcast by King George V, the queen’s grandfather. The addresses tend to reflect the mood of the nation, whether at war or peace, or in a pandemic.
“While Covid again means we can’t celebrate quite as we may have wished, we can still enjoy the many happy traditions,” the queen said. “Be it the singing of carols, as long as the tune is well known; decorating the tree; giving and receiving presents; or watching a favorite film where we already know the ending.”
This week, coronavirus cases in Britain hit record highs, driven largely by the Omicron variant, and brought warnings from scientists that the surge could overwhelm the country’s health service.
The queen’s message, which was recorded last week, came only days after she canceled her usual plans to spend the holiday at her Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, opting instead to spend Christmas just outside London at Windsor Castle, where she has spent most of the pandemic. Buckingham Palace said the decision reflected a “precautionary approach.”
It is the second year straight that she has canceled her Sandringham tradition. Her elder son, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, were expected to join her at Windsor.
Prince Philip’s death and the pandemic were not the only troubles for the royal family this year. In a rift that played out in the public eye, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, stepped down as senior royals. Their move was followed by an explosive televised interview in March that laid bare the family’s internal problems.
And Prince Andrew, the queen’s second son, who stepped back from public life in 2019 amid a backlash over his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier, has faced continued legal troubles in the United States.
But the queen’s message on Christmas was a reminder of the importance of family. In a nod to her long marriage, she wore a sapphire chrysanthemum brooch, which she also wore during her honeymoon with Prince Philip in 1947.
Buckingham Palace said this week that a memorial service for Philip would take place in the spring at Westminster Abbey. His funeral this year was understated, limited to 30 guests at the church service, as his death in April came amid tight pandemic rules in Britain.