The Queen has used her Christmas Day broadcast to highlight the importance of reconciliation between opposing sides – from communities in the North to those involved in the Scottish Independence referendum.
In her annual address to the nation, the head of state also talked about the poignant moment when First World War forces put aside their differences and met in no-man’s land during the Christmas truce of 1914.
And the Queen spoke with personal conviction about her faith and how Christ’s example taught her to “respect and value all people of whatever faith or none”.
The Scottish referendum proved divisive, polarising many parts of Scotland from sparsely-populated areas such as the Hebrides to the cities of Glasgow and Dundee.
The Queen said many felt “great disappointment” after a majority of Scottish voters rejected independence and others “great relief”, and “bridging these differences will take time”.
In contrast, the North has already begun the journey to heal divisions between Protestant and Catholic communities.
The Queen was reminded of this in June when she visited Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast.
It was once a notorious symbol of law and order where republican and loyalist prisoners were held during the Troubles, but is now a visitor attraction and conference centre and “a place of hope and fresh purpose”.
The Queen began by talking about a sculpture of a man and woman embracing by Josefina de Vasconcellos called Reconciliation – the theme of her Christmas broadcast.
Casts of the artwork can be found in the ruins of Coventry cathedral and at sites in Belfast and Berlin, said the Queen, and the artist was inspired by a woman’s search across Europe on foot for her husband after the Second World War.
She said: “The benefits of reconciliation were clear to see when I visited Belfast in June. While my tour of the set of Game Of Thrones may have gained most attention, my visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my mind.
“What was once a prison during the Troubles is now a place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people reach out to one another, rather like the couple in the sculpture.”
As the Queen spoke, footage of the visit was shown including the monarch walking through the famous building with Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – both of whom spent time in its cells in the 1970s or 1980s.
The Queen, who wore a purple dress by Angela Kelly and a diamond and pearl brooch inherited from her grandmother, Queen Mary, added: “Of course, reconciliation takes different forms. In Scotland after the referendum many felt great disappointment, while others felt great relief; and bridging these differences will take time.”
In the run-up to the September vote on Scotland’s future, the Queen was reported to have told a well-wisher outside Crathie Kirk, near her Balmoral estate, that Scots should “think very carefully about the future” when casting their ballot.
At the time there were calls from politicians for the Queen to intervene in the debate and her comments were the first time she had spoken publicly about the independence referendum.
During the Crathie Kirk service, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family reportedly heard the Rev Professor David Fergusson speak about how there would be a need for reconciliation between the two sides – whoever won the vote.
The Queen recorded her Christmas message seated next to a table displaying separate pictures of her grandparents George V and Queen Mary and an embossed brass box.
The box was a Christmas day gift for those serving overseas in the First World War during 1914, and was organised by the Sailors & Soldiers Christmas Fund created by Princess Mary, George’s daughter, and filled with a variety of gifts, from tobacco for smokers to chocolate for nurses.
During that first Christmas of the war, some soldiers from both sides laid down their weapons and met to play football.
The Queen highlighted the truce: “Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped and German and British soldiers met in No Man’s Land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.”
Black and white photos of the opposing forces meeting over the 1914 Christmas period were shown during the broadcast, recorded earlier this month in Buckingham Palace’s state dining room.
The Queen returned to this historic moment again in her address: “Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.”
She described sport as a “wonderful way of bringing together people and nations” and this year’s Commonwealth Games, staged in Glasgow during the summer, was highlighted as an example of this.
National teams were shown parading during the Games’ opening ceremony, then the Prince of Wales was featured meeting competitors beside a boxing ring and other images were shown of Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall chatting to a cyclist in the velodrome.
Injured servicemen and women and veterans who took part in the Invictus Games, organised by Prince Harry, were shown competing, including British armed forces team captain Dave Henson, who lost his legs in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan.
The Royal Marines Band was featured at the start of the broadcast playing the national anthem in Buckingham Palace’s gardens, and was shown at the close performing the Christmas carol Silent Night.
The Queen turned to the religious significance of Christmas as her address came to an end and she described how the life of Jesus Christ was an “inspiration and an anchor in my life”.
She said: “Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.”
As the military band played the carol, the Queen ended her address with the words: “On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line.
“That carol is still much-loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found.
“A very happy Christmas to you all.”