If anyone knows how to do a traditional Christmas, it’s the British royals. From fabulous meals to a weekend at Grandma’s house that rivals no other, they’ve got this Santa thing in the bag.
The queen’s Christmas lunch
Each year, just before she departs to spend her holidays at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth throws a posh Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace for her extended family. All the cousins and great-grandchildren are there to enjoy a festive meal before going their own ways for the big day. Of course, the most we commoners ever see of this shindig is the royals in their cars arriving at Granny’s door.
Sandringham house party
The real A-list royals get an invite to the queen’s country residence, Sandringham, for all or part of the holiday. Most arrive the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and there is a strict order of precedence for arrivals, with lesser royals arriving first and Prince Charles and Camilla last. For the first time since Prince George was born, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will not be spending the holiday with the rest of the royals, instead choosing to celebrate with the Middletons at their family home.
Gifts on Christmas Eve
November 18, 1981: Princess Diana switches on the Christmas lights at Austin Reed on Regent Street, London pic.twitter.com/NUUrFoPQ59
— ALL PRINCESS DIANA (@princessdibooks) November 15, 2016
Royalty waits for no one, not even Santa Claus! The royals exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and woe betide the person (like Diana, poor dear) who takes gift-giving too seriously. The royals prefer gag gifts or homemade treasures. Diana was mortified at her first Christmas as a princess, when no one bothered to tell her about this tradition; she bought the entire family lavish cashmere sweaters and everyone else handed out whoopie cushions.
More: Kate Middleton’s royal birthday present from the queen
Two church services
Don’t even think about skating by on a single midnight mass per year. The royals attend two services on Christmas Day alone at St. Mary Magdalene. The first, at 9 a.m., is a casual but private service for royals only, during which the queen takes communion. They then return to Sandringham House for a quick change and turn right around for the 11 a.m. public service, which is where all those great Christmas Day photos come from. Despite this being a public service, don’t think you can just turn up and have a seat. Locals who wish to attend must pass a security screening in the fall.
The royal Christmas address
Begun in 1932 as a radio broadcast by King George V, the Christmas address took to television with Queen Elizabeth 25 years later. Today, it is streamed on the internet in addition to the TV and radio broadcasts. The address is generally an overview of the year’s events with some personal milestones and Christmas ruminations thrown in for good measure. While the queen records the message several days in advance of her departure for Sandringham, it airs on Christmas Day at 3 p.m., just as the royals are finishing up their lunch. The family gathers around the telly to watch — well, except the queen herself. She excuses herself to another part of the house, probably because she already knows what she is going to say.
Boxing Day shoot
William and Kate will skip Prince Philip's traditional Boxing Day shoot at Sandringhamhttps://t.co/tGmdefKI1M
— ✝️ Ben Owen 🇺🇸 🇮🇱 (@hrkbenowen) December 18, 2016
The British upper class do love a good shooting party, and the royals are renowned for their pheasant hunts. William taught Kate how to shoot at Sandringham in 2007, long before they were married, and the eyebrows of royal traditionalists were raised when the Middletons were invited to the Boxing Day shoot in later years.
More: 11 signs you’re too obsessed with Kate Middleton and the royal family
Almost two months of Christmas
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While the others depart after the shoot on Boxing Day (or earlier, depending upon how much time they each care to share with the other side of their family), the queen and Prince Philip stay on at Sandringham through the second week of February. And much like that neighbor your HOA is always after, they keep their Christmas decorations up the entire time. Their tree is cut from the estate. How do they keep it fresh that long? Inquiring minds want to know.