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Throughout 2012, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth have celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We have been celebrating by following Her Majesty through the rhythms of the Royal Year.
BY SEPTEMBER’S END, days begin to get shorter and chillier in the Scottish Highlands. After her summer break, the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh return to the capital for a busy round of official autumn events that mark the beginning of another “season” in London, and the Royal standard flies again over Buckingham Palace.
Among the glittering receptions and audiences the Queen presides over, the main event on the capital’s diplomatic calendar is the annual Diplomatic Reception at Buckingham Palace. More than 1,200 official guests from 130 or more countries are invited for lunch, many of them attired in national dress. The catering alone represents a huge challenge, taking into account a plethora of tastes, religions and cultures. The symbolism of the event is reflected in the reality that ambassadors and high commissioners to the United Kingdom present their credentials to the Queen and are accredited still to the Court of St. James rather than to the British government.
In early November, Britain honors its war dead on Remembrance Sunday, held on the Sunday closest to November 11th—the Armistice Day marking the end of World War I. A Service of Remembrance is held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. As head of the armed forces, Her Majesty always observes the celebration. On the evening before, she attends a Festival of Remembrance held by the Royal British Legion at the Royal Albert Hall.
On Sunday morning, the processional cross from the chapel at St. James’s Palace is paraded to the Cenotaph with the Royal Family, military bands, senior members of the armed forces and war veterans in attendance. At 11 o’clock, the entire nation observes two minutes of silence to remember those who lost their lives in service to the country. Then, the Queen lays a wreath of poppies on the Cenotaph. The Chapel Royal choir leads in singing the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
Unless a general election has been held, the State Opening of Parliament takes place toward the end of November or in early December. No event so thoroughly represents Her Majesty’s role as Head of State. Steeped in tradition, the ceremonial opening of Parliament has been taking place in one form or another since the 1500s. It’s the one time when all the branches of British government are brought together in the same place. A ceremonial search of the cellars of the Houses of Parliament has been a tradition since the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Accompanied by Prince Philip, Her Majesty is conveyed in the State Coach from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster. There, in the Robing Room, the Queen dons her Robe of State and the Imperial State Crown—the one annual occasion when these are worn. Her entrance into Parliament is announced by a fanfare from the State Trumpeters, and the Yeomen of the Guard line the procession. Beyond all the pomp and symbolism of the ceremony lies The Queen’s Speech. From the throne, Her Majesty outlines the government’s plans for the coming legislative year.
In addition to numerous audiences, receptions and the occasional State Visit, Queen Elizabeth II has more light-hearted engagements as well. The autumn also brings the Royal Film Performance and the Royal Variety Performance, giving artists the opportunity to perform for the Queen, and Her Majesty an occasion to meet the stars.
Yes, it is always a busy year for Her Majesty, and this year has been certainly busier than most. Besides the accolades and commemorations that have marked her Diamond Jubilee, the Queen has celebrated with the nation the sporting triumph and Olympic Games that have marked 2012. Soon, the Christmas lights will adorn Regent Street, the giant Christmas tree will be raised in Trafalgar Square, and Her Majesty will begin to think of her Christmas retreat to Sandringham. Who can blame her?
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