How The Royal Family Celebrates The Holidays

Once December rolls around, the world is reveling in the festivities through the New Year, wrapping presents and fa la la-ing into the holiday season. The British Royal Family love a good excuse to come together, but as you can expect, the way they do Christmas is a little different compared to how your average Joe celebrates. Join us as we take a look at what the royal family will be getting up to during the holiday season.

‘Tis The Season for Sandringham

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The Queen has her fair share of extravagant properties dotted about the United Kingdom. Usually, Her Majesty spends the week at Buckingham Palace and enjoys each weekend at Windsor Castle in the country. Come Christmas time however and all of the family collectively gathers at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

Set in 24 hectares of sprawling gardens, the vast stately home has plenty of room for the entire clan. The estate is one of England’s most famous homes, with a rich history. There’s plenty of room for the grandchildren to run around, and lots of game for the Duke of Edinburgh to hunt, making it the perfect Christmas retreat.

Will and Harry Play Soccer

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Before taking some time to unwind with the rest of the family, Harry and Will usually take part in a charity soccer game on the Sandringham estate. It’s not uncommon for others to join in, with Kate’s younger brother James making a regular appearance. While they’re working up a sweat, the staff are preparing an afternoon tea.

Complete with finger sandwiches, cakes and snacks, the spread is served in the White Drawing Room at 4 p.m. This gives the family a chance to catch up and shoot the breeze before the more formal dinner festivities later on in the evening.

Gifts Are Exchanged on Christmas Eve

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The rest of the world opens gifts on Christmas morning, but the royals exchange presents on Christmas Eve, before dinner. This tradition comes from the German heritage of the monarchy and has been strictly adhered to for decades – if not longer.

That means that little Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis won’t be rushing downstairs on December 25th to tackle their mountain of presents like children across the globe. Instead, they will have much more pressing matters to attend to, like eating breakfast and making their public appearance at the local church… while the rest of us are watching Hallmark.

Silly Gifts Are Manditory

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When you’re a royal, you’ve got enough money to buy anything you want whenever you want, which makes gift exchanges pretty difficult. Instead of buying elaborate gifts for each other, the family exchanges cheap trinkets.

Gifts are given in the Red Drawing Room, where the staff painstakingly lay out a table for each member of the family laden with gifts. Silly presents are usually requested, injecting some much-needed fun into the day. One year Kate supposedly gave Harry a Grow Your Own Girlfriend kit. Luckily for Hazza, he’s way past needing something like that thanks to Meghan. What will it be this year? Knit Your Own Booties?

Christmas Eve Dinner is a Black Tie Event

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For most of us, Christmas Eve is a time to kick back, let our hair down and curl up in front of the TV with some eggnog and plenty of chocolate. We might venture out for a few drinks before bedding down for the night, but that’s as far as it goes.

Apparently, the Royals do the exact opposite and sit down to an elaborate formal dinner at 8 p.m. sharp. All of the family must attend in full black tie. It might seem a little extra, but the tradition has been going for so many decades that it’s the norm for Harry and Will.

They go to Church on Christmas Morning

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We might stumble into the kitchen and make a coffee before preparing Christmas dinner, but the royals have duties to perform – even on December 25th. Each year, they put on their Sunday best and head to the Christmas church service at St. Mary Magdalene.

It’s a welcome sight for the locals who turn up in their hundreds to watch the family make their way into the place of worship. 2017 marked Meghan’s first Christmas as part of the royal family, as Harry’s fiance. The following year she was in attendance as the (very pregnant) Duchess of Sussex.

Christmas Dinner with Two Turkeys

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It isn’t the holiday season without a big family dinner on Christmas Day, is it? While Her Majesty and co. are at the church service, the staff of Sandringham are preparing a feast fit for a queen.

The kitchen works non-stop over the festive season, but the big event goes a step beyond. The head chef, with the help of his team, carve the first of two enormous turkeys in front of the family at the dining room buffet. The Queen is always first to collect her food, with everyone falling in line behind her. According to insiders, the Queen will toast to a Happy Christmas with the head chef – an honour reserved solely for Christmas Day.

They Gather to Watch the Queen’s Address

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You might think that the royals would skip watching the Queen’s annual address, but it’s compulsory viewing at Sandringham. At 3 p.m, the entire family gathers around the TV to watch the televised broadcast of Her Majesty’s speech.

Once they’re done with that, the Queen retires to the saloon to do her favorite jigsaw puzzles, or goes for a stroll around the vast estate – depending on the weather. The rest of the family are free to kick back and relax however they would like to. Kate and Will probably have some traditions of their own with the kids, and next year there will be a new baby to coo over.

The Christmas Tree is Fake (And Old)

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You might see the likes of Buckingham Palace festively lit up this time of year, but rumor has it that the Queen prefers the interiors to be as minimal as possible.

You won’t find Her Royal Highness sitting in a drawing room full to the brim with tinsel and ornaments. Instead, the Queen prefers everything to be as simple as possible. Given the sheer size of the Sandringham estate, you’d think that a real tree would be the center of festivities, but the family actually gather around a 30-year-old fake pine that’s brought out every year. And you thought yours was old!

No One Can Go to Bed Before the Queen

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After all of the excitement, some members of the royal family (especially pregnant Meghan) might feel like getting an early night… but they can’t. Just like no one can get up from the dinner table until the Queen does, no one can retire before HRH either.

Word has it that the Queen loves Christmas and especially likes a late night game of charades with the family. It’s not often that she ends up going to her rooms until gone midnight. Children probably don’t have to adhere to that rule, but Meg might have to get used to it despite her condition.

They Release Holiday Cards Every Year

Harry and Meg
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The royal tradition of releasing Christmas cards first started back in 1914, when King George V and Queen Mary sent a card to the troops fighting in the First World War. Since then, the family poses for seasonal snapshots each December, much to the delight of fans.

The portrait is usually quite traditional, so when Meghan and Harry released this unseen snapshot of the two of them watching fireworks at their wedding reception it rocked the boat. Fans voiced their disappointment at not being able to see the Duke and Duchess’ faces, but they got to see plenty of Kate and Will on their family card.

Read on to see theirs.

Prince George Finally Gets to Wear Pants

Kate and Will
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This might not be strictly Christmas related, but the beautiful seasonal portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge certainly set tongues wagging – because Prince George was finally wearing pants.

The eldest of Kate and Will’s children, the young prince has only been spotted wearing long shorts (as per family tradition) up until now. However, in this glowing photo the youngster is joking around on his dad’s shoulders and is notably wearing pants. This family portrait is vastly different from Harry and Meg’s black and white offering, and much closer to the traditional type of card royal fans are used to seeing this time of year.

There’s an Annual Boxing Day Hunt

Prince Harry Shooting
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Each year on Boxing Day, the Royals take part in a pheasant hunt on the Sandringham estate. This year, the media reported that Prince Harry was banned from taking part in the festivities by Meghan, who opposed the killing of animals.

Kensington Palace has denied the claims, but it’s thought that Harry won’t be taking part this year to spend some time with his wife ahead of their new arrival in the Spring. Both his father, Prince Charles, and his brother, Prince William, enjoy taking part in the shoot each year. Harry himself has attended since he turned twelve in the 90’s.

The Queen Buys Her Gifts From Harrods

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While the other members of the family enjoy buying a silly gift or three, the Queen likes to keep it classy. Now well into her 90’s, HRH doesn’t get out and about like she used to, but rumor has it that there was a time that Liz enjoyed doing her own shopping.

Up-market retailer Harrods would stay open after hours so that the Queen could shop in peace away from the crowds. It’s still her preferred store of choice, but she most likely has someone else go and have a look around for her these days. You can bet she doesn’t do the wrapping, either.

The Staff is Given Gifts, Too

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Working for royalty isn’t easy, but at least they get a little something for their efforts. At the beginning of the year, all staff in royal employ are given the option of receiving a book token or a gift token from the Queen as a Christmas bonus.

They must’ve been in her service for over a year to qualify, and the value increases depending on how high up they are – but it’s capped at £35. In the week leading up to Christmas, each member of staff is personally given the voucher by HRH in one of the State Apartments.

If You Haven’t Got a Ring, You’re Not Coming In

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The royal family in its entirety head to Sandringham for festivities, but it’s on an invitation-only basis. Prince Andrew and his daughters often show up, while Prince Charles, Camilla, and Will and Harry have been permanent fixtures around the dinner table.

However, boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t invited until they marry into the family. Even Kate Middleton wasn’t welcome until she married Prince William in 2011, despite being together since 2008. An exception was made for Meghan after her engagement to Prince Harry was announced the month prior. Why? The jury is out on that one. Your guess is as good as ours.

The Younger Royals Finish the Trees

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Most of us finish decorating the tree weeks before the big day, but the royals like to spice it up. The final touches are the responsibility of the younger royals – currently Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

After they arrive at Sandringham on Christmas Eve, the kids are let loose to finish sprucing up the two trees in the house. However, if former head chef Darren McGrady is right, then the Queen gives them a going over herself to make sure they’re perfect after the kids have gone to bed for the evening. We thought it was just our parents that did that!

Meghan’s Mom Was Invited This Year

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As we’ve previously touched upon, the Queen is notoriously fussy about who she lets sit around her table on Christmas Day. You could be a life-long friend of William’s and not see the inner sanctum, but this year the Queen extended a very rare invite to Meghan Markle’s mom.

Meghan and her mom are close, so it’s not surprising that HRH was gracious enough to welcome her. Despite the incredible offer, it’s believed that Doria Ragland will stay at home in Los Angeles instead of being with her daughter this Christmas. Who knows, maybe next year will be a different story…

The Queen Signs Her Cards in the Summer

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If you thought your Christmas card list was long, then think again. It’s not a patch on what Her Majesty has to send out. The list is so long that Liz gets working on it in the summer, usually when she’s on vacation.

Important politicians and heads of state get a card signed with “Elizabeth R” (for “regina” the Latin word for Queen), friends get plain “Elizabeth” and cousins get “Lilibet,” her childhood nickname. Once she’s done, there will be a pile of around 800 cards for staff to send off – presumably by special courier and not 2nd class post.

Some Guests Sleep in the Staff Quarters

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It might seem bizarre, but Sandringham house is considered small to the royals. While they’re used to ample bedrooms, it can be a bit of a squeeze. Back in the day, the Queen would invite extended family to stay, but they would have to make-do sleeping in the staff quarters.

Only 24 guests can be seated at the “adult” table in the main dining hall, with the children seated separately in the nursery. When the Queen wants to see the entire family together, she puts on a lunch at Buckingham Palace which can accommodate 50 guests.