For most of the last three decades, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain has attended church services on Christmas Day in Sandringham, near her English country estate, and spent the day with immediate family.
But this year the holiday season is pointedly different as she celebrates her first Christmas without her husband, Prince Philip, who died in April, and as other family members mark the holiday at a distance.
Because of concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant, the monarch, 95, will instead spend Christmas at Windsor Castle. She will celebrate with her son Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, but her daughter Princess Anne is not attending because her husband, Timothy Laurence, tested positive for the virus, according to Buckingham Palace.
The queen’s grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, were not expected to travel to Britain for Christmas. The couple, who have a home in California, have spent much of their time in North America since quitting their royal duties in 2020.
Even as the British government has held off on imposing restrictions on Christmas gatherings, record levels of virus cases have disrupted holiday plans and contributed to a somber mood in the country.
The queen, who also spent last Christmas sequestered in Windsor Castle, has largely been absent from public view in recent months. In October, she canceled a trip to Northern Ireland because doctors advised her to rest, and she delivered a video address during the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow rather than attending a leaders reception as planned.
Last week, she canceled her annual pre-Christmas lunch for the royal family, a longstanding tradition, for the second year in a row because of concern about rising cases.
In her annual Christmas Day address, a recorded speech that will be broadcast on Saturday afternoon, she is expected to deliver a personal message, according to the BBC.
On Thursday, Harry and Meghan released a first photo of their daughter, Lilibet, in a Christmas card that shows a smiling Meghan raising Lilibet into the air as Harry hugs their son, Archie.