What Do The Royals Do For Christmas?

By Ellie Smith

6 months ago

Festive royal customs


Whether it’s playing a specific board game or a staple trip to the pub, all families have their own unique Christmas traditions – even the royals. Each year, the inner circle head to Sandringham Estate for the big day, but what does a royal Christmas Eve look like? What do the Windsors gift one another? Where do they go to church? Read on to discover answers to all your questions about what the British royals do for Christmas.

What Do The Royals Do For Christmas?

Christmas card with picture of King Charles and Camilla

Instagram @theroyalfamily

Christmas Cards

The Royal Family has a long-standing tradition of sending out photo-based Christmas cards, which dates back many years to 1914, when Princess Mary sent a snap as part of a gift for soldiers. Apparently the late Queen Elizabeth II would sign hundreds of cards, getting ahead by starting during her summer trip to Balmoral. 

This year is the first time King Charles and Queen Camilla have released a card as the official reigning monarchs, using a picture taken on Coronation Day, complete with a simple message: ‘Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and New Year.’ The Prince and Princess of Wales have also released an official card of them with their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

Sandringham

Sandringham

A Trip To Sandringham Estate

It is customary for the Royal Family to spend Christmas at Sandringham – but who gets the invite? The guestlist is apparently bigger than usual this year, with Queen Camilla’s family (including her son, Tom, and her daughter Laura, plus their children), joining the Windsors at the Norfolk estate. It’s expected they’ll be celebrating alongside Prince William, Kate Middleton and their three children, plus Princess Anne, her husband Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence and her family. Zara and Mike Tindall and their children will be in residence too, alongside Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson and their daughters Prince Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. However, it’s thought Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will not get the invite (they haven’t spent Christmas at Sandringham since 2018).

Duchess of Cambridge, Royal Carols: Together At Christmas

Instagram @dukeandduchessofcambridge

Gifts On Christmas Eve

The present-giving ceremony at Sandringham takes place on Christmas Eve, when, according to the official Royal Family website: ‘The Royal Family lay out their presents on trestle tables and will exchange their gifts at teatime.’ The question is: what do you give to royalty? Apparently, royal presents tend to be either novelties or sentimental items – decadent gifts are ‘frowned upon’, according to Omid Scobie’s book Finding Freedom. For instance, one year Harry is believed to have given the late Queen Elizabeth a shower cap embellished with the phrase ‘Ain’t Life a B****’, and before Meghan Markle was on the scene Kate Middleton gave Harry a ‘grow your own girlfriend’ kit. The royal children, meanwhile, tend to get traditional toys.

After the gift giving, there’s usually a black-tie dinner: in his memoir, Harry says the family dines at a ‘long table covered with white cloth and white name cards.’

Camilla in white dress next to children and guards decorating Christmas tree

Christmas Day Celebrations

Like in most households, Christmas Day festivities begin with breakfast – this is generally a Full English, but some of the women opt to have something lighter brought to their rooms, according to former royal chef Darren McGrady. Next, it’s off to church for the Christmas morning service at St Mary Magdalene, before retreating back to the house for lunch.

The big meal is a traditional affair of ‘turkey, different stuffings – sage and onion, chestnut – and the traditional sides like roast potatoes, mash potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts’, according to McGrady, with a Christmas pudding for dessert. Afterwards, some of the family go for a walk around the estate, coming back for the King’s speech (naturally). This year will be King Charles’ first Christmas speech since acceding to the throne, taking place at 3pm. 

Instead of spending the afternoon grazing on leftovers like the rest of us, the royal family will then enjoy afternoon tea, plus a decadent evening buffet of cheeses, crackers, meats and more. This would traditionally include a whole foie gras en croute from Harrods, but King Charles has now banned foie gras in all royal residences, so an alternative spread will be used this year.