What you do for Christmas says more about your family than you think. Having to wait 'til everyone arrives to open presents? Your family lives for rules. Mid-morning tipple? Essential with so many rellies around. A hot lunch followed by the Queen’s Christmas message on TV? Granny calls the shots and she likes things done her way.
These are just some of the royal family traditions followed by the Mountbatten-Windsor clan. Here’s a rundown of how they spend Christmas with granny, or Gan Gan, as Prince George calls her...
They’ve already done their good deeds
By now, the Windsors have been in full-on festive mode for weeks, hosting events for their various charities and sending out thousands of personalised Christmas cards to well-wishers. The Queen and Prince Philip alone send around 750 cards, some of which QEII starts writing over her summer break!
She’s also given Christmas trees to schools and charities around Sandringham. These locals are in very good company since they’re the same trees to dress up Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.
They gather at Sandringham for a sleepover
Their private celebrations begin when her Majesty and Prince Phillip take a train 160km north from London to Sandringham House in Norfolk a few days before Christmas. It’s a public train but they travel in the first class carriage. The rest of the family arrives in dribs and drabs but must be there before the 4pm tea on Christmas Eve when everyone meets up for the first time. The house party guestlist changes year to year, it varies between 10 to 30 favourites who stay over (Meaghan's mum Doria will be joining the festivities this year). As far as palaces go, Sandringham House is not very big so only closest family sleepover. In the past, some of them have had to share bedrooms or bed down in the servant’s quarters! No wonder Wills and Kate and the kids stay at home at Anmer Hall which is a short drive away.
The boys play soccer on Christmas Eve
Keen sportsmen Wills and Hazza compete head to head on the soccer field. The Princes lead teams made up of palace staff with everyone kitted out in supporter socks from the boys’ favourite teams — that’s Aston Villa for Team William and Arsenal for Team Harry. George might even be old enough to join in this year!
They open presents on Christmas Eve
This one goes back to the family’s German roots. It’s called “heiligabend bescherung” and it’s one of the only events involving the kids which is why it takes place at the 4pm tea. Veuve Clicquot, cake, jammy dodgers, gingerbread and fruit mince pies are served. On the way in guests (including George, Charlotte and baby Louis) will place their presents on a trestle table organised with name tags for everyone present. When she’s ready the Queen likes them all to go up and find their gifts before opening them in front of her. So, what do you get the family who has everything? Joke gifts, of course. Rumour has it Kate bought Harry a “grow your own girlfriend” kit several years ago, and Harry gave QEII a shower embroidered cap with "Ain't life a bitch" on it.
They dress up for cocktails and dinner on Christmas Eve
No togs and thongs for this lot who have to dress in full black-tie finery for a formal dinner the night before Christmas. Hosted by the Queen, guests are treated to her favourite cocktail, the Zaza. Also known as the Dubonnet, the drink was a favourite of the late Queen Mum too. It’s made with one part gin to two parts Dubonnet (a sweet, wine-based aperitif) served with a twist of orange or lemon.
The Queen has a Christmas morning sleep in
With presents already opened, her Majesty stays in bed until 9am when she is delivered a breakfast tray of sliced fruit, toast and coffee. Supposedly the rest of the royal women do the same while the blokes gather at 8.30am for a full English cooked breakfast. There’s eggs, bacon, mushrooms, kippers and grilled kidneys which sounds very Paleo-friendly.
They go to church on Christmas morning
Morning is all about the 11am church service at St. Mary Magdalene on the Sandringham Estate. While the Queen is driven in a Bentley, younger members of the family walk to and from the house to church so keep an eye out for Meghan’s mum. No skipping this tradition when you’re staying with the head of the church!
Lunch is at 1pm sharp
After church it’s time to eat. The children head to the nursery for their meal at 12.30pm while the grown-ups gather for drinks ahead of a 1pm start for the day’s feast. Just like us, they pop Christmas crackers and put on the silly paper hats. Well, all except the Queen who already has her own crown. Lunch is roast turkey from the local butcher which the head chef carves at the table before the Queen offers him a whisky. Roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing and cranberry sauce are on the menu and the white wine Gewurztraminer is served. A brandy-soaked and flaming Christmas pudding with brandy butter and sauce makes a dramatic entrance at 2pm sharp. This is a very special pud made 12 months before and not to be confused with the 500 or so puddings from Tesco that she buys out of her own pocket every year as gifts for her household staff. The Queen's beloved corgis are extra spoiled at Christmas too, with a rotating menu of rabbit, beef or chicken with rice and cabbage.
The Queen weighs them!
After pudding, there’s a cheese course with port. Then comes the weirdest part of the day: the conclusion of the royal family weigh in. If you believe the stories, every lunch guest weighs themselves before they sit down to eat and then again after they’ve finished and the Queen discusses the difference, apparently it’s to make sure everyone has eaten enough and had their fill. So it’s a nice thing. We can’t confirm how much truth there is to this one but it sounds like something a racehorse owner might do, right?
They tune into the Queen's Christmas message
After the deeply strange family weigh in, everyone goes off to nap or play charades. Not for long though.
At 3pm they turn on the telly and do what they’ve done since 1957 when the Queen’s annual Christmas message was first televised across the Commonwealth. The pre-recorded broadcast is a chance for her Majesty to look back on the year that was and share her hopes for the future. Wonder if she’ll mention Brexit? Then, it’s time to eat again. Yes, really! The 4pm tea features sandwiches, scones, Christmas cake, a chocolate yule log and more fruit mince pies. After all, those 1200+ fruit mince pies made by the royal kitchen aren’t going to eat themselves.
They back up for a buffet dinner
No slipping into PJs and vegging out in front of Love Actually for the Windsors. Grown-ups will be once again frocked up and back in the dining room for a candlelit buffet at 8.30pm and it doesn’t end until the Queen slips away around 10pm and the men retire for brandy and cigars.
And breathe… sort of
While we’re watching the cricket and swimming, the royals wake up and change into tweed and corduroy field clothing. Yes, Christmas festivities continue with a Boxing Day pheasant hunt. Apparently this year Harry won't be taking part, with speculation Meaghan's passion for animal welfare may be behind his noticeable absence. After Boxing Day, the royals usually get to do their own thing until the New Year. Keep an eye out for pics of Kate, William and the kids skiing at their usual spot at Courchevel, France or Meghan and Harry jetting off somewhere tropical to get some sunshine. The Queen and Prince Philip stay on at Sandringham til February when they return to Buckingham Palace and official duties. Until then it’s all walks in the country with the corgis and finishing off those fruit mince pies.