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‘Big lunch’ follows big coronation celebrating King Charles

LONDON (AP) — After the gilded spectacle of King Charles III’s crowning in an ancient religious ceremony, coronation festivities took a more down-to-earth turn Sunday with thousands of picnics and street parties held across the U.K. in his honor.

The community get-togethers, part of a British tradition known as the Big Lunch, were intended to bring neighbors together to celebrate the newly crowned king even as support for the monarchy wanes. Critics complained about the coronation’s cost at a time of exorbitant living expenses amid double-digit inflation.

Thousands of luncheons were organized as part of the celebrations Sunday, along with a nighttime concert at Windsor Castle featuring Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and 1990′s boy band Take That. Charles encouraged residents to engage in volunteer activities Monday, which was a holiday.

The king and Queen Camilla were not expected at any of the luncheons but planned to attend the concert that will include a speech by his son, Prince William, heir to the throne.

The king’s siblings, Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Anne, the Princess Royal, and their spouses took on lunch duty for the royal family. Edward was in Cranleigh and his sister hit an event in Swindon. The king’s nieces, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, the daughters of Prince Andrew, were to join a lunch in Windsor.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosted U.S. first lady Jill Biden and her granddaughter Finnegan Biden at the Big Lunch party held in front of his office. Other guests included Ukrainian refugees and community activists.

As in other neighborhoods with street parties, Downing Street was decked out in Union Jack bunting for the occasion.

The lower-key events followed regalia-laden pageantry that saw the king and queen crowned together in Westminster Abbey. They were presented with centuries-old swords, scepters and a jewel-encrusted golden orb symbolizing the monarch’s power in a medieval tradition celebrated with liturgy, song and hearty cheers of “God save the king.”

The couple then paraded through the streets in a gilded horse-drawn carriage led by the largest ceremonial military procession since the coronation of Charles’ mother, Queen Elizabeth II, 70 years ago. Some 4,000 troops marched in formation through the streets, their scarlet sleeves and white gloves swinging in unison to the sound of drums and bugles from marching bands, including one group of musicians on horseback.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the route in the rain to see it in person. Nearly 19 million more watched on television in the U.K., according to ratings released by Barb, a research organization. That’s about 40% fewer viewers than had watched the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September.

Charles and Camilla said Sunday in a statement that they were “deeply touched” by the celebration and “profoundly grateful both to all those who helped to make it such a glorious occasion – and to the very many who turned out to show their support.”

Not everyone was there to celebrate, though, and criticism continued Sunday over arrests of more than 50 protesters, including members of a republican group shouting “Not my king” and environmentalists aiming to end the use of fossil fuels.

Graham Smith, leader of Republic, a group advocating for abolishing the monarchy, said he was arrested as he planned peaceful protest and spent 16 hours in police custody.

“These arrests are a direct attack on our democracy and the fundamental rights of every person in the country,” Smith said. “Each and every police officer involved on the ground should hang their heads in shame.”

The Metropolitan Police acknowledged concerns over the arrests, but defended the force’s actions.

“The coronation is a once-in-a-generation event and that is a key consideration in our assessment,” Commander Karen Findlay said.

In addition to the lunch celebrations, hundreds of troops marched through the center of Glasgow on Sunday to celebrate the coronation.