In 1932, King George V delivered Britain’s first Christmas Broadcast. His message of good cheer hit the airwaves and sparked a new royal tradition that became a standard part of Christmas for Britain and beyond.
Queen Elizabeth II made her own holiday history in 1957. That year—the 25th anniversary of her grandfather’s first Christmas broadcast—the annual message aired on television rather than radio. The transition from radio to a televised broadcast marked a new era for the monarchy and made the institution appear more accessible and personal to its people. You can watch the historic event in the video above.
For the first time in history, those who tuned into the program could both hear and see the sovereign. As Queen Elizabeth II put it:
“It is inevitable that I should seem a rather remote figure to many of you. A successor to the Kings and Queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar in newspapers and films but who never really touches your personal lives. But now at least for a few minutes I welcome you to the peace of my own home.”
The new medium was a hit: The first televised Christmas broadcast ushered in 16.5 million viewers from Great Britain (plus 9.5 million radio listeners), which was a larger audience than any other program had received at that time.
There has only been one Christmas without a broadcast. In 1969, pamphlets were distributed around the country with a message from the queen because a documentary about the royal family had aired that summer. “I have received a great number of kind letters and messages of regard and concern about this year's break with the usual broadcast at Christmas and I want you all to know that my good wishes are no less warm and personal because they come to you in a different form,” she wrote.
The event continues to hold significance today. Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8, 2022, delivered her last holiday message in 2021. King Charles III will continue the royal tradition by giving his very first Christmas broadcast this year.