The Queen paid tribute to the “kindness of strangers” whose actions have inspired all and, sounding a positive note, said even the “darkest nights” have a promise of a “new dawn”.
The message, recorded before Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for millions, saw the Queen sympathise with those unable to see family and friends and who just wanted a “simple hug or a squeeze of the hand” as a festive present.
Sounding resolute, she told the nation “but we need life to go on”, after describing how major religious festivals for many faiths had been disrupted this year.
The personal message was written by the Queen, as it is every year, and her words are likely to have added poignancy given the upheaval many families will have experienced due to Covid-19.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who stepped down as working royals in March, were not featured in the photo and video montages of major events from the royal year that illustrated the broadcast.
But national hero Captain Sir Tom Moore, whose huge NHS fundraising efforts saw him knighted, was shown as the Queen highlighted how “Good Samaritans have emerged across society” during the crisis.
Speaking from Windsor Castle, the Queen said: “Remarkably, a year that has necessarily kept people apart has, in many ways, brought us closer.”
The head of state delivered her message from a desk where the only family photo on show was a private portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh chosen by the Queen.
It reflected the Queen and Philip’s decision to have a quiet Christmas as a couple at Windsor and was symbolic of people across the country who have also chosen to have pared back family gatherings.
The Queen added: “Across the Commonwealth, my family and I have been inspired by stories of people volunteering in their communities, helping those in need.
“In the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenges of the year, and I am so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit. To our young people in particular I say thank you for the part you have played.”
The Queen began her address, delivered from the castle’s Green Drawing Room, by highlighting how the lights that fill our homes at Christmas also symbolise “hope”.
And she said fireworks that had filled the skies above Windsor last month, as residents celebrated Diwali – the festival of lights – provided a “joyous moment of hope and unity”.
The head of state added how she had celebrated International Nurses Day on the 200th anniversary of the birth of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale – famously known as the lady with the lamp.
“Today, our front-line services still shine that lamp for us – supported by the amazing achievements of modern science – and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” said the head of state.
She added: “We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that – even on the darkest nights – there is hope in the new dawn.”
During the broadcast, images showing life under lockdown from the Duchess of Cambridge’s Hold Still photographic project were shown.
Steph James’ picture of her one-year-old son placing his hand on a window while his great-grandmother, on the other side of the glass, kissed his hand, was featured.
Footage of Sir Tom being knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle was also shown and the many video calls conducted by the royal family as official engagements moved online during the pandemic.
The head of state was seen among a wall of faces taking part in a video call in May to mark International Nurses Day, another with the Princess Royal and four carers highlighted Carers Week in June, and the following month she spoke online with members of the armed forces.
William and Kate’s meeting with Cardiff care home resident Joan Drew-Smith, who had given a four-letter verdict on their bingo calling skills, had everyone roaring with laughter behind face masks, footage revealed.
The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were also shown, visiting Gloucestershire Royal Hospital to thank health workers, as were images of the weekly applause for carers and a picture of a rainbow – the symbol of thanks for the efforts of key workers.
The Unknown Warrior – who was buried at Westminster Abbey 100 years ago – represented millions who have echoed his values of selfless sacrifice, the Queen suggested.
“For me, this is a source of enduring hope in difficult and unpredictable times,” the monarch added.
She said: “Of course, for many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness: some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand.
“If you are among them, you are not alone, and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers.”
There was a strong religious theme to the address reflecting her Christian faith and the Queen said the biblical story of the Good Samaritan had relevance today.
“Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God,” said the Queen.
The message was recorded in mid-December with a pared back film crew in accordance with appropriate guidance, and saw the Queen wearing the Queen Mother’s Shell Brooch.
The broadcast ended with the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, who are featured on Justin Bieber’s new single Holy alongside Chance the Rapper, singing the carol Joy To The World from Windsor Castle.