Why Queen Elizabeth Once Spent Another Christmas Without Prince Philip

This holiday season will be the first the Queen has spent without her husband in 65 years.

Queen Elizabeth at Christmas 2017
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When the Royal family celebrates Christmas this year, they’ll undoubtedly be marking the absence of one very important person: Prince Philip, the family patriarch, who died in April at age 99. 

There was another Christmas that the Queen spent apart from her husband in their 73 years of marriage, though — but for a much different reason. 

In 1956, Prince Philip was traveling on a three-month voyage on the Royal Yacht Britannia, according to People. The sail began in October, and included a visit to Australia for the Prince to open the Olympics in Melbourne. Queen Elizabeth remained at home with the couple’s then-two young children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. The Queen and Prince would later have Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Though they were separated for the holiday, the royal couple was able to speak on Christmas. Prince Philip called the Queen at Sandringham by radio from the ship. She acknowledged the conversation in her annual Christmas broadcast that day.

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​​"Of all the voices we have heard this afternoon, none has given my children and myself greater joy than that of my husband," Queen Elizabeth said on the radio broadcast. "To him I say: 'From all the members of the family gathered here today our very best good wishes go out to you and to every one on board Britannia, as you voyage together in the far Southern seas. Happy Christmas from us all.'"

"Of course it is sad for us to be separated on this day, and of course we look forward to the moment when we shall all again be together,” she added. “Yet my husband's absence at this time has made me even more aware than I was before of my own good fortune in being one of a united family."

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The Queen’s holiday festivities will be different this year, not just because of her husband’s absence, but because the pandemic has once again cancelled her plans to celebrate. Earlier this week, the monarch announced she was canceling her plans to travel to Sandringham, in light of the Omicron variant and the sharp increase in COVID infections, and will remain at Windsor Castle for the second Christmas in a row. The royal estate where she normally hosts the family Christmas celebration, including the famous walk to church on Christmas morning, is on Britain’s east coast. Normally, the Queen spends the holidays there and stays until early February.

Queen Elizabeth also cancelled her annual pre-Christmas luncheon for the extended family, which was supposed to have taken place on Dec. 21 at Windsor.

“A royal source says it was a personal decision taken after ‘careful consideration’ and reflects an ongoing ‘precautionary approach,’” People reported. “The source added that she will be visited by various members of the family over the Christmas holiday.” Those relatives are expected to follow strict COVID safety protocols to protect the Queen.

Julie Tremaine is an award-winning food and travel writer who’s road tripping — and tasting — her way across the country. Her work appears in outlets like Vulture, Travel + Leisure, CNN Travel and Glamour, and she’s the Disneyland editor for SFGate. Read her work at Travel-Sip-Repeat.com.