18 Royal Family Christmas Traditions

Every family has got Christmas traditions, but these are another level.
PHOTO: Getty Images

The royal family like nothing better than a bit of tradition. They've got traditions for births, marriages, and everything in between. And that includes Christmas.

Most families stick to their long-loved festive routines, and the royals are no different. Theirs are just a little more formal than ours.

1. They send a LOT of Christmas cards

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In fact, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are thought to send around 850 hand-signed cards between the pair of them. Each royal family unit will send their own personalized card, like this one of Prince Charles and Camilla, sent in 2016.

2. The Queen does her Christmas shopping at Harrods

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While at 92, Queen Elizabeth probably now has help buying gifts for her loved ones, it's been reported that she previously enjoyed doing her own Christmas shopping. Wanting only the best for her family, Harrods would apparently stay open after hours just for the Queen, so she could shop at her leisure.

3. All the Buckingham Palace staff are given gifts

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Early in the year, all staff are given a choice between a gift token or a book token for their annual Christmas present from Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. To qualify for the gift, they must have been in royal service for over a year, and the value of their voucher increases with seniority. Junior staff will receive a token worth £28 (P1,872)) , and this will increase every year to a maximum of £35 (P2,340). The week before Christmas, all staff-members are given their gift by the Queen in one of the State Apartments after the Head of Staff announces his annual report on their yearly performance.

4. They spend Christmas at Sandringham House

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The Royal family traditionally go to Sandringham House in Norfolk for their Christmas festivities instead of Buckingham Palace. The country retreat has been owned by the royal family since 1862, and serves as the perfect winter escape with the house being set in 24 hectares of gardens.

5. The Queen hires an entire train carriage to get there

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She might be the head of the Commonwealth with access to her own private royal train and everything, but Queen Elizabeth prefers to travel to the Sandringham Estate ahead of Christmas just like everyone else. Sort of. She actually hires a whole carriage of a pre-scheduled public train to King's Lyn to transport herself, Prince Philip, and their immediate staff to Norfolk around a week before Christmas.

6. The rest of the family arrives on Christmas Eve

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The family members who are invited to spend the Christmas period with the Queen and Prince Philip at Sandringham are given a specific time to arrive on Christmas Eve. Each group will get a different time to turn up according to their status within the family. The most junior members will turn up first, and the most important—the likes of Prince Charles and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example—will arrive last.

7. They have two Christmas trees

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According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, "the Royal Family has a large Christmas tree and a large silver artificial tree in the dining room, which is about 30 years old."

8. Partners of royal family members are only invited to join when they're married

Except Meghan Markle, that is; who marked a departure from royal protocol when she was invited to Sandringham for Christmas last year following the couple's engagement announcement the month before. Convention states that only married couples are invited to Sandringham for Christmas, and it's usually stuck to; Kate Middleton wasn't allowed until she married Prince William in 2011, and neither was Zara Phillips' partner Mike Tindall before they got married. That means this is the first year Princess Eugenie's husband, Jack Brooksbank, will be allowed after the couple got married in October.

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Last year, it's thought that Prince Harry asked his grandmother to make an exception to the rule for Meghan, due to her family home being so far away. Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams explained why he thinks the family were so happy to oblige despite their strict traditions: "Now they are engaged and she will shortly be a senior member of the royal family, it is pivotal that she feels an integral part of it as soon as possible," he said at the time.

9. Everyone finishes decorating the Christmas tree together

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After gathering at Sandringham House on Christmas Eve afternoon, the younger members of the royal family put the finishing touches on the trees. But if former royal chef Darren McGrady is to be believed, we can imagine the Queen sneaks back down later to make sure the kids haven't made them look a mess. "The Queen is not lavish, so the décor is minimal," he told Good Housekeeping.

10. They exchange Christmas gifts following afternoon tea on Christmas Eve

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In keeping with the family's German heritage, gifts are given on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. And apparently they like to give jokey presents (Kate Middleton once gave Harry a 'grow your own girlfriend', apparently). Well, what do you give the people who have got it all?!

All the Christmas gifts get put on trestle tables for each member of the family, and they open them following afternoon tea when Prince Philip gives his say so.

11. Prince William and Prince Harry play an annual game of football against one another

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The two Princes traditionally take to the pitch along with locals and Sandringham staff on opposing teams for a game of Christmas Eve football. Usually, they'll wear the socks of their favorite teams (William supports Aston Villa and Harry supports Arsenal) but in 2015, they strayed from tradition to play on the same side—that of the local pub, The Black Horse Inn.

12. There's a black tie dinner on Christmas Eve

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According to the Telegraph, it's "a relatively formal affair, with the men wearing black tie suits and the woman wearing gowns, expensive jewelry, and tiaras."

During the dinner, everyone enjoys a drink. The Queen's tipple of choice is reportedly a gin cocktail called a Zaza, while Prince Charles opts for cherry brandy. Princes William and Harry both go for a pint of Sandringham cider (or maybe two) made with apples grown in the grounds of Sandringham House. 

13. They all attend church on Christmas morning

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Seeing as the Queen is literally the head of the Church of England, it's fitting that the royal family attend a Christmas morning service. The entire family walks—usually led by Prince Philip—to St Mary Magdalene Church for a 45 minute service. The Queen, meanwhile, is driven.

14. They eat turkey for Christmas dinner

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The only difference being, theirs is cooked by a professional chef and is served along with the likes of lobster. "[After church] they have a big lunch that includes a salad with shrimp or lobster, and a roasted turkey, and all of your traditional side dishes like parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and Christmas pudding with brandy butter for dessert," explained Darren McGrady. "They stick with the same meal year after year," he added.

In keeping with every other meal she eats throughout the year, the Christmas Day menu is written in French.

15. The Queen pre-records her Christmas message

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Despite the fact the Queen's speech is broadcast to the country at 3 p.m. on December 25 every year, the monarch actually pre-records it in the White Drawing Room or one of the other grand rooms at Buckingham Palace a few days before Christmas.

16. They all sit down to watch the Queen's speech when it's aired on Christmas Day

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17. They have a buffet dinner in the evening

Where about 15 to 20 different items are on offer. Dreamy. "It's always a buffet with the chefs at the table carving," said former royal chef Darren McGrady. "Right before the Christmas buffet, the senior chef on duty goes into the dining room and carves the rib roast or turkey or ham and once he's done, Her Majesty presents the chef with a glass of whiskey and they toast."

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18. They all play Charades

Just like families do on Christmas Day. And they stay up late playing until midnight, thanks to the protocol that nobody retires to bed until Queen Elizabeth does.


This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.

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