Noting that people of all faiths could not celebrate festivals the usual way this year, Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message on Friday hailed Diwali, the festival of lights, which she said provided moments of hope and unity in a year that has kept people apart.

The widely-watched royal message recorded in mid-December in Windsor did not mention “pandemic” or “Covid-19”, but she said the year that has necessarily kept people apart has, in many ways, brought them closer.

She said, “Every year, we herald the coming of Christmas by turning on the lights. And light does more than create a festive mood – light brings hope. For Christians, Jesus is ‘the light of the world’, but we can’t celebrate his birth today in quite the usual way.

“People of all faiths have been unable to gather as they would wish for their festivals, such as Passover, Easter, Eid and Vaisakhi. But we need life to go on. Last month, fireworks lit up the sky around Windsor, as Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, providing joyous moments of hope and unity – despite social distancing.”

The queen, 94, Prince Philip, 99, and other members of the British royal usually spend Christmas in the country retreat of Sandringham, Norfolk, but the royal couple has been living in Windsor and will not visit other family members due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Across the Commonwealth, she said stories of people volunteering in communities had inspired her and her family.

Paying tributes to nurses, the youth and others who rose to the challenges of the year, she said, “There is hope in the new dawn.”

She said, “Of course, for many, this time of the 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,” she added, wishing people “a very happy Christmas”.

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