Queen Elizabeth II has hailed the “quiet, indomitable spirit” of her people through the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and described the importance of her Christian faith in her annual Christmas message to the British Commonwealth.

“For Christians, Jesus is the light of the world, but we can’t celebrate his birth today in quite the usual way,” said the 94-year-old monarch, a devout Protestant who, along with her 99-year-old consort, Prince Philip, has had to spend this Christmas in a “bubble” apart from her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

She lamented that people have been unable to come together as normal for many religious festivals, including “Passover, Easter, and Eid and Vaisakhi” over the course of the year — “But we need life to go on.”

“Remarkably, a year that has necessarily kept people apart has, in many ways, brought us closer. Across the Commonwealth, my family and I have been inspired by stories of people volunteering in their communities, helping those in need,” she said, adding that she was “so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit.”

“We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that – even on the darkest nights – there is hope in the new dawn,” she continued.

“Jesus touched on this with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who is robbed and left at the roadside is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture. This wonderful story of kindness is still as relevant today.

“Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.

“The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light, as has the sense of purpose we can find in coming together to worship,” she said.

Looking back over the year’s events, the Queen picked out a time when she was compelled to leave isolation as the country “commemorated another hero – though nobody knows his name.”

“The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior isn’t a large memorial, but everyone entering Westminster Abbey has to walk around his resting place, honouring this unnamed combatant of the First World War – a symbol of selfless duty and ultimate sacrifice,” said the monarch, whose own formative years were taken up by the Second World War, in which she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and mechanic.

“The Unknown Warrior was not exceptional. That’s the point. He represents millions like him who throughout our history have put the lives of others above their own, and will be doing so today. For me, this is a source of enduring hope in difficult and unpredictable times,” she explained.

“Of course, for many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness: some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members distanced for safety, when all they’d really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand,” the monarch continued.

“If you are among them, you are not alone, and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers,” she promised.

“The Bible tells how a star appeared in the sky, its light guiding the shepherds and wise men to the scene of Jesus’s birth. Let the light of Christmas – the spirit of selflessness, love and above all hope – guide us in the times ahead.

“It is in that spirit that I wish you a very happy Christmas.”