Good news is the focus in even the worst years

Christmas may have changed since her accession, and the situation in her household has shifted dramatically in the last week alone, but the Queen chose not to break with tradition in her message to the Commonwealth yesterday.

Choosing to avoid any reference to the expected divorce of her eldest son and his wife, the Queen focused on traditional themes - international strife and hardship and, of course, the good news.

Good news has been a comforting factor in her Christmas address to the nation in the last few years of her troubled reign. In 1992, the year she had called her "annus horribilis" in a speech just before Christmas, the collapse of the marriages of her two eldest sons was heavily publicised and Windsor Castle was badly damaged by fire. But in that year's Christmas message she did not refer specifically to such problems. Instead, she paid tribute to Lord Cheshire VC, the founder of Cheshire Homes for the disabled. She acknowledged the difficult days the family had faced but stressed the continuity of her reign. "To me, this continuity is a great source of comfort in a world of change, tension and violence," she said.

Last year she also tried to extract good news from a bad year, reciting a 1919 poem from Siegfried Sassoon, Everybody Sang. She quoted: "Everybody suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight."

The theme of good news keeps recurring. Ten years ago it cropped up "in spite of the frightening headlines". "It used to be said," she recalled, "that `no news is good news', but today you might well think that, `good news is no news'."

In 1975, there was a similar message of optimism: "If enough grains of sand are dropped into one side of a pair of scales they will, in the end, tip against a lump of lead."

In previous decades, the Queen was more inclined to talk about her family than she is now. She praised "the great family festival" of Christmas in her 1965 address, but her first speech in 1952 was much more personal. "Each Christmas, at this time, my beloved father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world. Today I am doing this to you who are my people. As he used to do."

The following year the Queen was revealed as a proud parent, a quality she has seldom shown recently. "We all want our children at Christmas time. I hope that perhaps mine are listening to me now, and I am sure that when the time comes they, too, will be great travellers."