DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now, while our politicians are consumed with the deficit deadline, many leaders around the world are taking a step back, putting quill to paper and carefully composing their Christmas messages. In Britain, particular attention will be paid to Queen Elizabeth's message, because this year she's celebrating 60 years on the throne.
NPR's Philip Reeves sent this letter, musing about what it meant to be British as 2012 comes to a close.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's been a pretty good year for the queen. Her Diamond Jubilee has gone well. There were no really big royal scandals, just a minor embarrassment when her grandson Harry was photographed naked in Las Vegas.
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REEVES: The Queen's cameo performance at the Olympics when her stunt double parachuted into the stadium was a huge hit.
A few months later came the news that she's soon to be a great-grandmother. The royal family's enjoying a surge in popularity, so tomorrow, when the Queen delivers her Christmas message, many of her subjects will put their seasonal wassailing on pause, switch on the TV, and raise a toast. For the first time her message is being screened in 3D. Her more zealous fans can wear special spectacles as they watch their 86-year-old monarch and feel thoroughly proud to be British.
It's hard to witness this strange ritual without wondering: How British do the British really feel? Remember, the United Kingdom includes the nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The world will soon find out how British the Scots feel. Scotland's holding a referendum on independence in 2014. The other day we were given a rare insight into the English and the Welsh. The results of the latest 10-year census were published. For the first time it included questions about national identity.
Two million people identified themselves only as Welsh and not British at all. The statistic that really caught my eye concerned Cornwall, a thin finger of land in southwest Britain that juts out into the Atlantic. Officially, Cornwall is part of England, yet 60,000 people declared themselves as Cornish and Cornish alone. Historically, the Cornish are Celts, who were shoved out into the furthest corner of the land by invading Anglo Saxons some 1,500 years ago.
The Cornish have their own flag, their own recently revived language, and their own political party that campaigns for autonomy and holds seats on various local legislatures. Cornish nationalism's even produced a few home-grown militants, though they haven't done much beyond bombing a politician's mailbox back in the '80s and denouncing as enemies of the people several English celebrity TV chefs who've opened restaurants on Cornish turf.
By far the finest hour of the diehard Cornish came on Christmas Day a few years back. Every year the British TV broadcaster Channel 4 takes on the Queen by running its own alternative Christmas message. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are among those who've delivered these messages. Eight years ago there was a message the Cornish will remember forever.
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REEVES: Channel 4 allocated the slot to a message for the British from Marge Simpson.
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JULIE KAVNER: (as Marge Simpson) Anyway, each year at Christmastime, we take a moment to reflect on the important events of the last year. Let's see...
REEVES: Lisa Simpson appears. Marge reports that Lisa spent her year pursuing progressive causes, and for a few seconds we see Lisa brandishing a sign saying UK Out Of Cornwall.
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YEARDLEY SMITH: (as Lisa Simpson) Free Cornwall now, free Cornwall now. (Speaks foreign language)
REEVES: That last bit's in Cornish and also means freedom for Cornwall now. The Cornish nationalists were delighted. To this day there are Cornish twitterers who send out their tweets under the icon of a clench-fisted Lisa. As Elizabeth II addresses her subjects tomorrow, it's nice to think in a distant corner of her kingdom, a fair few Cornish folk will raise a toast to their queen, to Queen Lisa. Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.
(SOUNDBITE OF "THE SIMPSONS" THEME MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.