Nobody does Christmas like the royal family. Really, no one.
Queen Elizabeth and her brood of four children, eight grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren are big fans of celebrating the holidays together. And the Queen has really figured out exactly how she likes it to be done in her 95 years on the planet.
As a member of the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas traditions are sort of a matter of public record. Especially once her uncle King Edward VIII abdicated the throne and her own father became King George VI. Of course, her royal traditions aren’t simply passed down in the regular way of most of our families, with recipes and such going from one generation to the next without making much of a dent in the way other people celebrate the holidays.
For Queen Elizabeth and her family, in some cases their holiday traditions have actually shaped the way the rest of the world celebrate. In other cases, not so much. From weigh-ins to gag gifts, here are some of the royal family’s most fascinating Christmas traditions.
1 They Get Weighed Before & After Dinner Anwar Hussein/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
There was one particular scene in the movie
Spencer, the fictionalized version of Princess Diana spending the holidays at Sandringham Estate with the royal family, that seemed unreal. This scene depicted Princess Diana arriving for the holidays and getting weighed upon entry on an old-fashioned scale. This is, apparently, something that Queen Elizabeth really does insist on for guests visiting for the holidays. Each family member gets weighed on arrival and then weighed after the holidays have ended to ensure they’ve all been well-fed, per a rule first established by King Edward VII, who was Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandfather. No thanks to this rule, if anyone is asking. 2 The Queen’s Christmas Card Process Starts In July WPA Pool/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Now here’s a slightly more traditional rule on a much grander scale — the holiday Christmas card. Every year, members of the royal family pose for a photo for their Christmas cards. Fairly standard, except in their case they send out cards to more people than their aunts and uncles and friends and so forth. Queen Elizabeth alone sends out an average of about
750 Christmas cards, so many that she first starts the process of preparing these cards in July. Then the rest of the family send out special cards with photos of their family like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, etc. So that’s a whole lot of Christmas cards floating around. 3 The Queen Puts Up Several Christmas Trees Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images
If you think you like Christmas trees, you would love to visit the royal family over the holidays.
Queen Elizabeth puts up no fewer than five Christmas trees for the holidays. These trees are brought to Sandringham Estate and Buckingham Palace by royal employees, she and her family traditionally put the finishing touches on trimming them. Christmas trees have a special significance to the royal family; Queen Charlotte, who was consort to King George III, first introduced the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree to the monarchy. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert embraced the tradition, and so the royal family continues to go full gangbusters on their Christmas trees. 4 Queen Elizabeth Takes The Train To Her Sandringham Estate Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
By the time Christmas Eve actually arrives,
Queen Elizabeth has already kicked the holiday season off in high gear. She hosts an annual luncheon at Buckingham Palace for extended family members, usually numbering around 50 people or so. She also expects senior members of the royal family to host several holiday events. And when it’s time to pack up and head to Sandringham Estate, she hires out a train car on a public train leaving King’s Lynn station and traditionally makes the journey to Norfolk alongside her husband Prince Philip and their staff a week or so ahead of time. 5 They Love To Give Each Other Gag Gifts FIONA HANSON/AFP/Getty Images
While the royal family can certainly afford to buy each other lavish gifts beyond most of our wildest dreams, this is definitely not their style. Instead, they focus on finding fun gag gifts to give to each other as a way to celebrate their time together. For example, Kate Middleton reportedly bought Prince Harry a joke
“Grow Your Own Girlfriend” kit years before he married Meghan Markle, while Prince Harry gave Queen Elizabeth a shower cap that read “Ain’t Life A B**ch.” As for the Duchess of Sussex, she once gifted Prince William a spoon embossed with “cereal killer,” and he reportedly loved it. 6 Queen Elizabeth Sends Christmas Pudding To Her Loyal Staff
Working for the royals over the Christmas holidays is not for the feint of heart. There is so much royal protocol to be followed, whether you are keeping the rooms in order, cooking the meals, or working on ground maintenance. Queen Elizabeth, much as her father and grandparents before her, recognize the extraordinary work that needs to be done by the staff. And so she
sends out 1,500 Christmas puddings to her loyal staff members every year along with small tokens of appreciation and a personalized Christmas card from Her Majesty for those who have been employed at least one year. 7 They Open Gifts On Christmas Eve
The royal family follows the German tradition of opening Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. They tend to open their gifts after an afternoon tea of finger sandwiches and little cakes, then sit down together later in the evening for a
black-tie feast including Norfolk lamb, shrimp, and a tarte tatin followed by aperitifs. Kate Middleton and Prince William have begun their own Christmas tradition with their children at their nearby estate of Anmer Hall, where they give them the chance to open gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas morning. The mom of three has her own holiday family traditions to pass down too, after all. 8 The Men Start Off Christmas Day With A Big Breakfast Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images
Christmas Day sounds awfully busy for the royal family, I sort of don’t blame them for opening their gifts the night before. First off, the royal couples split up by 8:30 am so the
men can eat a breakfast called “the full English” straight away. This tends to consist of sausages, eggs, toast, fried potatoes, and bacon. Queen Elizabeth takes a breakfast tray in her room, and then the family heads off to attend church service at St. Mary Magdalene by 11 am. They all walk together through crowds of royal fans before heading back home for more structured activities. Exhausting. 9 The Queen Gives A Hopeful Christmas Address Every Year Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Through seven decades of reigning as monarch, Queen Elizabeth has been delivering an annual Christmas address. Every year, the theme of the address is focused on speaking directly to the British people, giving a sense of togetherness and hope while also acknowledging whatever struggles have plagued them that year. In 2020, Queen Elizabeth gave an address to people who were having a difficult time over the holidays due to Covid-19 that
they were “not alone,” and showing great pride in her subjects. “In the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenges of the year, and I am so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit.” 10 The Queen Keeps Her Decorations Up Until February Fiona Hanson - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth loves her Christmas decorations so much, she’s in no rush to have them taken down. Seriously no rush. She clearly has such a fun time celebrating with her extended family that she wants the magic to last as long as possible. All the way until Feb. 6, to be exact. Which is the date her
beloved father, King George VI, died at Sandringham Estate in 1952. Perhaps this is how Queen Elizabeth honors her father’s memory, a man who himself was reportedly a big fan of Christmas. 11 Prince Harry & Prince William Have An Annual Football Match Danny E. Martindale/GC Images/Getty Images
Prince Harry and Prince William started their own tradition years ago, and it’s a bit rowdier than some of the other royal choices. The pair host an
annual charity football match on Christmas Eve at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, per The Mirror. Each year the two brothers would play against each other in a match featuring staff members and family friends for 90 minutes, no matter the weather. Residents of the nearby village play in the match, and Prince William tends to always wear blue and white striped socks in honor of his favorite team, Aston Villa. Presumably this is a Christmas tradition that will no longer include Prince Harry, who lives in California. 12 Dinner Starts With A Christmas Cracker Ingrid Nagy / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth appears to love a joke, especially one that’s included in a novelty Christmas cracker. You know the kind, a cardboard paper tube with paper crowns and other little gifts inside. Well, the royal family eats their elaborate Christmas dinner with
their own Christmas crackers laid beside their plates, although they reportedly enjoy a more bespoke cracker made especially for them by Tom Smith, according to The Express. Smith includes a little riddle inside his royal crackers as well as some French bon-bons to snack on. Dress them up however you want, they’re still Christmas crackers sure to delight the royal kids. 13 The Kids Eat In A Separate Room AARON CHOWN/AFP/Getty Images
Former royal chef Darren McGrady told
My London that the royal family tends to be “boring” when it comes to their annual Christmas feast. “The turkey is served with mashed and roast potatoes, chestnut or sage and onion stuffing, cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Vegetables include brussels sprouts, carrots and roast parsnips.”
One big difference?
The royal kids are served their very own turkey with all the trimmings in their nursery, separate from the adult members of the family. McGrady explained, “So for the Queen, there was never a case of putting a high chair at the table with a little baby squealing and throwing food. It was Victorian. The children's place was in the nursery and Nanny would take care of them. It's your modern-day Downton Abbey." 14 The Queen Lets The Kids Help Decorate The Christmas Tree Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson Collection/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth loves Christmas trees and tradition, but she also loves her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Which is why she loosens up a little with her festive decorations to let them help decorate the tree. Even when they’re a bit clumsy about it.
In a chat with Sir David Attenborough for
The Queen’s Green Planet documentary, per The Sun, she explained when discussing her own Christmas tree, “The children love knocking those [decorations] off. Well my great-grandchildren do, anyway, they enjoy themselves. And the great thing is to make them decorate it and they're a bit more careful. It always looks jolly.” 15 They Go Horseback Riding On Boxing Day Tim Graham/Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty Images
The royal family are an outdoorsy bunch, and there is a longstanding tradition to get outside on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, to enjoy some fresh air after all that food and fun. There is an
annual pheasant hunt for the adults, or at least those who are comfortable hunting at any rate. Meghan Markle famously abstained when she spent Christmas with the royal family. As for the children, they are en couraged to get outside to ride horses, ride bikes, or simply go for a hike through the grounds to stretch their legs.
Anything to work off some of that extra energy.
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