By JR on Tuesday, December 27, 2011
The Queen's Speech focuses on the families that support us in times of crisis. A reflection on her Christmas Day message
When Her Majesty the Queen chose to focus her Christmas message on the importance of family, she was unaware that her own closest relation would be taken from her side. As it was, there was a special poignancy – for those watching on television – to the images of husband and wife on screen, given that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have been separated by illness at this least appropriate time of year.
Studying that broadcast, it would be hard to think of a better illustration of how dedicated a servant the Duke remains to his wife and Sovereign, even in his 90th year. Elsewhere on these pages, Philip Eade sets out the many ways in which he has strengthened and supported Her Majesty over the years, greatly to the benefit of his adopted nation. As the Duke recovers from his operation, both he and his wife will be able to draw similar strength from the family around them, this year enlarged with the marriage of two of their grandchildren. Indeed, it was appropriate that this was the very theme of Her Majesty’s Christmas message: the way that family, and the support of those we love, enables us to cope with times of hardship, and how such trials often draw out “the most and best” of the human spirit.
Her Majesty was not just talking about our immediate families, however. As she reminded us, “family” can define more than simply those related to us by blood. She cited the example of the Commonwealth that she has done so much to hold together – “a family of 53 nations, all with a common bond, shared beliefs, mutual values and goals”. Similarly, her definition of hardship was a broad one, encompassing not just the natural disasters that struck Queensland in Australia and Christchurch in New Zealand, but also being separated from loved ones serving overseas, or the more mundane pressures of austerity.
It is, of course, a cliché of the festive season to talk about the importance of family and community, and of being supported by those we love. But it is a cliché for a reason. Our families, our friends, our communities – and yes, our faith – are what sustain us in difficult times, and make life about more than simply the accumulation of wealth (or, in times such as these, the protection of what wealth we have).
This was a theme taken up in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas sermon, too. Next year is the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the temptation will be to concentrate above all on the ways in which it has shaped our language. Yet as Dr Rowan Williams argued, the book also matters because it is of common prayer, offering a shared experience and shared devotion. Our society, the Archbishop suggested, all too often lacks such anchors: as a result, “bonds have been broken [and] trust abused and lost”, making space for the misbehaviour both of “mindless” urban rioters and irresponsible fiscal speculators.
In difficult times, with the future all too uncertain, it can be tempting to harden our hearts as we tighten our wallets. Yet if we lose our connection to those around us, we become – as Dr Williams put it – merely “atoms spinning apart in the dark”. And as the Queen reminded us yesterday, “finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas”. Jesus himself, she pointed out, was born into a world “full of fear”.
Over the next 12 months, Britain will witness a series of truly grand occasions. Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee promises to be a marvellous celebration of a monarch who has served her people with dignity and dedication for so long. The Olympics will bring the world to London and many other parts of Britain. Yet of equal importance to such national spectacles are the humbler moments of familial or communal pleasure. Just as the Duke of Edinburgh will be aided in his recovery by having his family around him, so are the rest of us supported by those we care for. If we can hold on to that sentiment, it might make the new year happier for us all.