Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 2, 2023

Coronation celebration

Husband Art, his grandson Josh and I were in the United Kingdom in the days surrounding the May 6 coronation of King Charles III. While we weren't anywhere close to Buckingham Palace or Westminister Abbey, the entire nation marked the occasion. Shops were decorated with Union Jacks, balloons, and red-white-and-blue bunting. Window displays featured tins and mugs with images of the king, souvenir coronation "programmes," and old clothing and hats from the time of his mother's coronation. All of it was designed to connect with the festivities in London or at least make a pound or two for shop owners.

U.S. citizens tend to dismiss the whole royalty thing since our nation was founded on independence from any monarch. Some Brits think they should move in that direction. Still, many of us seem captivated by the pomp and circumstance.

To educate myself on the details of the big day, I asked friend Jan to save for me a stack of newspapers. Looking through the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Sunday Times proved instructive. Reading some of the articles beforehand, I better understood how traditional parts of the coronation would be interspersed with elements reflecting how the United Kingdom has changed in the past 70 years.

The theme - "Called to Serve" - featured leaders of different religions, women, and prayers in English, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic. King Charles specifically requested that leaders from the Bahai, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and Sunni and Shia Muslim community be included in the procession.

Jan's daughter Leanne and son-in-law Steve invited us to their home to watch the proceedings on their big-screen television. Seventy years ago, sales of the then new-fangled "tellys" had taken off as many Brits purchased them with the express purpose of watching the coronation of Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

We arrived at about 11. The royal party was already en route by carriage to Westminster Abbey, the site of British coronations for the past 900 years.

The somewhat paradoxical phrase "The king is dead, long live the king" recognizes that at the moment of death of the past monarch, the successor becomes the monarch. So when Queen Elizabeth II died in September, Charles immediately became king. The coronation celebrates that transition.

When Charles and wife Camilla entered the abbey, the anthem "I Was Glad" was sung, as it has at the entrance of every monarch since Charles I was crowned in 1626. It is "tweaked" for every coronation as the king or queen and his or her consort are mentioned by name in the phrase "Long live King/Queen ...." although the phrase is spoken in a Latin form.

Long-standing traditions such as these were everywhere interwoven with changes. Charles' crown was St. Edward's, made in 1661. But Camilla's was Queen Mary's crown, made in 1911. Previous queens consort commissioned their own crowns. The Sword of State - a symbol of the monarch's authority - was for the first time presented by a woman, Member of Parliament Penny Mordaunt.

After being crowned, the two departed the abbey in new purple Robes of Estate. Camilla's was adorned with bees, beetles and other insects to depict her love of nature. Twelve new works by British composers in classical, sacred, gospel, film, television, and musical theater genres were commissioned for the ceremony.

People across the UK shared food and fun. Because Jan's home is next to Leanne and Steve's, we only had to walk a few feet to partake in her "coronation big lunch." Jan had "coronation pork pie" - which I am suspicious is the same as regular pork pie - along with salads, rolls, sliced turkey, coleslaw made by Steve, and potato salad.

We finished our royalty watching about 4 p.m., after King Charles III, Queen Camilla and the other royals returned to Buckingham Palace and appeared on the balcony to greet the millions who had come to see them. It had been a cool day in the mid-50s in London with patches of showers. Charles' mother had experienced the same in 1953 as had his grandfather before her in 1936.

Our connections with the coronation continued the following day with our visit to nearby Chirk Castle. But while May 6 had been dreary and wet, May 7 was gloriously sunny. Art and I had toured the castle several times before, so Josh went inside while we wandered the beautiful gardens filled with blooming tulips, rhododendrons, magnolias and other colorful flowers. Families were taking advantage of the beautiful weather and three-day holiday. We joined in by partaking of a "coronation cream tea" - scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and tea with milk and sugar.

In the evening, we drove to the Llansilin church to attend a summer "plygain." These celebrations feature a capella singing in Welsh, and have nothing to do with the coronation. They are traditionally held at Christmas, but may celebrate any change of the season.

Still, we weren't quite ready to let go of the coronation festivities. So after the plygain, we drove to the community center at Llanyblodwel a few miles to the east. In honor of the occasion, a "beacon" - bonfire - was to be lit. We arrived a few minutes late and, as we drove into the field designated for parking, the fire was already well under way. The celebration had commenced three hours before and the fellows manning the hot dog table only had a few left. They gave them to us so they could begin cleaning the grill. Sometime it pays to be late!

We had visited the UK in 2012 during Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee - her 60th year as monarch. We were back last May for her Platinum Jubilee - her 70th. Neither trip, nor the one this year, was planned to coincide with those milestones. But we greatly enjoyed all three and were glad we could celebrate them with our friends.

Top (l-r): Josh checking the sales on coronation clothes; Art prefers the balloons; Steve, Josh, Leanne's and Steve's son Sam, and Art form the first row of coronation watchers. Bottom (l-r): Although it is lunch time, all eyes are glued on the "telly," except for those of Art and Steve, who are having a chat and staying close to the food; Josh and Art at the northeast corner of Chirk Castle; Josh and Art in the Llanyblodwel parking area. The beacon is at the upper-right.

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