By Chris Bishop
Friday, December 24, 2010
As much a part of Christmas Day as turkey and crackers, millions around the world watch the Queen’s Speech. It’s a tradition which began at Sandringham, where the Royal Family spend each Christmas.
Silence fell around the world as the voice of King George V boomed out from radio sets, as he took to the airwaves via the new-fangled medium of the wireless, from his family’s country retreat in Norfolk.
“I speak now from my home and my heart to you all,” he began on Christmas Day, in 1932. “To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert, or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them.”
A makeshift studio had been installed at Sandringham, from where the King was to broadcast live at 3pm.
Carried by telephone line to the BBC World Service’s transmitters in Northamptonshire, the speech penned by Rudyard Kipling was heard around the empire in Australia, India, Canada and Kenya.
Continued by King George VI after his accession to the throne, the Queen made her first speech after the death of her father in 1952.
Sitting in the same chair, at the same desk from which the King had made his final Christmas address, which he had pre-recorded the previous year as his health deteriorated, she said: “Each Christmas, at this time, my beloved Father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world.
“As he used to do, I am speaking to you from my own home, where I am spending Christmas with my family. My father and my grandfather before him worked hard all their lives to unite our peoples ever more closely, and to maintain its ideals which were so near to their hearts. I shall strive to carry on their work.”
Much has changed in the five decades since the Queen’s accession, after her father passed away in his sleep at Sandringham.
But for millions, her Christmas Speech still signals a time to reflect on the year that’s almost passed, inspiring thoughts for others serving their country in far-flung lands, or those less-fortunate closer to home.
After enjoying a Norfolk turkey with all the trimmings - again locally-sourced - the Queen and her family watch the broadcast together, like families up and down the land.
Earlier, they will have greeted thousands of well-wishers who line the path which leads from Sandringham House to the tiny carr-stone church of St Mary Magdalene.
Children line up with flowers after the service, which is broadcast to those outside the church via a PA system. Despite the cold and her advancing years, the 84-year-old Queen takes time to greet every one, as one of her protection officers quickly disappears behind armfuls of bouquets.
Then the Queen is swept away by Limousine, as the Duke of Edinburgh and other Royals set off back down the path to the house, exchanging greetings with the crowds.
Before lunch is served, there will be time to inspect the presents which will have been opened on Christmas Eve, laid out beneath the chandeliers of the Ballroom on trestle tables covered with white tablecloths.
Royal presents have a reverse snobbery of their own. Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward, the Princess Royal and their children compete to see who can spend the least or devise the oddest gift.
Prince Charles was thrilled to receive a leather loo seat one Christmas. The Queen once declared a casserole dish was just what she had always wanted - much as many of us will greet the inevitable arrival of socks or a sweater from a distant aunt.
While most of us mark Christmas Day with far more extravagance on the present front, almost every house in the land shares another Royal tradition.
Christmas trees became popular around the world in the 1840s, after Queen Victoria and her German-born husband Prince Albert put one up at Windsor Castle.
The following year, illustrations showing the ornament appeared in fashionable London magazines, and millions adopted the tree as the centrepiece of their celebrations.
When she arrives in Norfolk a few days before December 25, the Queen will oversee decorations on her own family’s tree, which will have been carefully selected from pines grown on her estate.
Christmas cards, which are now sold in their millions, were a tradition which began when a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert opted to print cards showing a festive scene containing a brief message, because he didn’t have time to write letters to all his family and friends.