LONDON– King Charles III brought back memories of his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Sunday as he delivered his first Christmas message as monarch in a speech that also paid tribute to the “selfless dedication” of Britain’s public sector workers, many of whom are struggling with the government about pay.
Charles, 74, also empathized with the recorded message featuring people struggling to make ends meet “at a time of great fear and need.” Like some other parts of the world, the UK is struggling with high inflation which has plunged many households into a cost of living crisis.
However, the king’s initial comments were reminiscent of his mother, who died in September at the age of 96 after 70 years on the throne.
“Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones,” said Charles. “We sense their absence in every familiar season and remember them in every cherished tradition.”
Charles ascended the throne immediately after the Queen’s death. His coronation ceremony is scheduled for May.
He wore a dark blue suit for his televised Christmas message. Unlike Elizabeth, who often sat at a desk to deliver the annual speech, Charles stood next to a Christmas tree at St George’s Chapel, a church in the grounds of Windsor Castle, where his mother and father, Prince Philip, were buried.
Charles said he shares with his mother “a belief in the extraordinary capacity of every human being to touch the lives of others with kindness and compassion and to shine a light on the world around them.”
“The essence of our community and the very foundation of our society” is evident in “health and social workers and teachers and indeed all those who work in the public sector, whose skills and commitment are at the heart of our communities,” the king said.
Strikes by nurses, ambulance crews, teachers, postal workers and train drivers this month have put British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government under pressure. Opinion polls show a high level of support for workers, particularly nurses. Unions are targeting wage increases in line with inflation, which stood at 10.7% in November.
Rising food and energy prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have taken a financial toll on many individuals and families.
Through video footage of food banks and other charity work, Charles expressed his sympathy for “those at home who are finding ways to pay their bills and feed their families and keep them warm.”
Also reaching out to people of other faiths in the UK and across the British Commonwealth, Charles said the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ transcends “the limits of faith and belief”.
Charles believes the monarchy can help unite his country’s increasingly diverse ethnic groups and faiths. It’s part of his effort to show that the institution is still relevant.
The six-minute message ended with an appeal to heed “the eternal light,” which Charles said was a key aspect of Elizabeth’s faith in God and in people.
“Regardless of your faith or not, I believe that in that life-giving light and in the true humility that lies in our service to others, we can find hope for the future,” he said.
The king was not referring to the recent uproar over this month’s Netflix documentary series about the acrimonious separation from the royal family that accompanied the decision of his son Prince Harry and daughter-in-law Meghan to step down from royal duties and move across the ocean .
Video footage accompanying the Christmas message showed working members of the royal family at official events. Harry and Meghan did not show up, nor did Prince Andrew, who was stripped of his honorary military titles and deposed as working king for his friendship with notorious US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
However, Andrew did accompany Charles and other senior royals on a Christmas morning stroll to a church near the family’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England.
The King and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, led family members to a service at St Mary Magdalene Church. They included Prince William, Charles’ elder son and heir apparent, and William’s wife Kate, as well as the couple’s three children, Prince George, 9, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4.
They were accompanied by Prince Edward, Charles and Andrew’s younger brother, and his wife Sophie.
After the family entered the church, parishioners sang “God Save the King” followed by the Christmas hymn “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Sandringham has been the private country home of four generations of British monarchs for more than 160 years, but this was the royal family’s first Christmas there since 2019, according to Britain’s Press Association news agency.
Elizabeth spent her last two Christmases at Windsor Castle due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowds lined the streets near Sandringham to greet the Royal Family’s Sunday for their return to bank holiday tradition.
“King Charles will be thinking of his mother, of her legacy. They’ll think about it over Christmas,” said John Loughrey, 67, who lives in south London and camped out overnight to be first in line. “It will be a sad time and a happy time for her. That’s how it has become.”