How the Royal Family does Christmas, from gift giving to turkey dinner

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Royal Family Christmas traditions
Holiday festivities are just around the corner, and they don't skip the Royal Family. From separate trees in each royal child's nursery to palace staff puddings to church with the family, the royals certainly do not go without this time of year – Dec 14, 2019

Holiday festivities are just around the corner, and they don’t skip the Royal Family.

Members of the monarchy have relished in Christmas tidings all the way back to the time of Queen Victoria in the mid-1800s. When her children and grandchildren married into the royal houses of Europe, they brought with them many a tradition.

From separate trees in each royal child’s nursery to palace staff puddings to church with the family, the royals certainly do not go without this time of year.

Here are all of the Royal Family’s traditions during the holiday season.

Casual gift-giving

As a nod to their German heritage, the royals open gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day. Per the family’s official website, every year they lay presents out on trestle tables and exchange gifts at teatime.

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It’s a tradition that dates back about 200 years and all members, the website continues, receive gifts from the Queen.

But for a family who already seem to have it all, a question on everyone’s minds remains: What do they gift each other for Christmas?

Royal biographer Brian Hoey once said that Prince Harry gave his grandmother, the Queen, a shower cap that read: “Ain’t life a b—ch.”

While the comedic gift can’t be confirmed, it’s widely believed that members of the Royal Family prefer giving one another “comparatively inexpensive or novelty gifts,” royal historian Carolyn Harris told Global News.

Queen Elizabeth II reads a book with Prince Andrew (L) and Prince Edward at Buckingham Palace during the recording of Queen’s Christmas message to the Commonwealth in December 1971. CENTRAL PRESS PHOTOS / AFP) (Photo by -/CENTRAL PRESS PHOTOS/AFP via Getty Images
“It’s been said that when Princess Diana first joined the Royal Family [in 1981], she wasn’t aware of this gift tradition and gave members of the family pashmina sweaters and other more elaborate gifts,” she added.
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When it comes to the Duchess of Cambridge, she prefers to gift consumables made with love.

“Kate follows the tradition of giving members of the Royal Family simpler gifts, and has been known to give her grandmother’s homemade chutney,” Harris said.

Click to play video: 'Prince Harry and Meghan to spend first Christmas with baby Archie in U.S.'
Prince Harry and Meghan to spend first Christmas with baby Archie in U.S.

While Prince Harry has been known to generously give Meghan Markle heirlooms from his late mom (like the aquamarine ring he gave her on their wedding day), it’s unknown what types of gifts they’ll exchange this year.

“It will likely follow traditions both of Prince Harry’s family as well as Meghan’s American family,” she said.

“Meghan loves to cook, so I’m sure we will be seeing delicious home-cooked meals around that time.”

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Perhaps a roast chicken — the meal Markle famously made the night her husband proposed — will be on the menu.

Church on Christmas Day

The public delights in spotting their favourite royals every winter season when those closest to the Queen — including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sussex, as well as their growing families — stay at her and Prince Philip‘s estate of Sandringham.

On Christmas Day, most members of senior royalty gather at St. Mary Magadelene in Sandringham. The crew will wait on the steps to see Her Majesty off, which provides for a great photo opportunity.

READ MORE: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle won’t spend Christmas with Royal Family

“The public loves to watch the family on Christmas Day, as that’s when they attend church all together in Sandringham,” Harris said. “It’s one of the only times every year, other than Trooping the Colour and other big royal events, such as royal weddings, that the family is seen all together.”

This year, the family will be missing three of their cherished members. The Sussexes are notably not spending Christmas with the Royal Family this year.

Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and Prince William curtsey and bow as they see off Queen Elizabeth II after the Royal Family’s traditional Christmas Day church service at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham on Dec. 25, 2017. AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Holiday meals fit for royals

As the family grows, it’s been speculated that the Queen will introduce a children’s table “to accommodate the large number of children in the family,” Harris said.

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It’s believed, she added, that Lady Louise Windsor, the Queen’s granddaughter, will look after the children as she did at her cousin Princess Eugenie’s wedding in 2018.

Princess Diana’s former chef Chef Darren McGrady cooked for the Royal Family from 1981 until 1998, when he wrote Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen.

Speaking to Good Housekeeping in 2016, McGrady said the family sticks “with the same meal year after year.” In the morning, they enjoy a “hearty breakfast” before heading to church.

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Amateur’s Royal Family photo goes viral

“After church, that’s when 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,” he said.

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After watching the Queen’s Christmas speech at 3 p.m., they enjoy afternoon tea with fruitcake, following by a “buffet dinner with 15-20 different items.”

“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,” McGrady continued.

“That’s the only time the chef goes into the dining room and has a glass of whiskey with the Royal Family. It’s one of the chef’s favourite traditions.”

Darren McGrady, former personal chef of Princess Diana, was in Toronto on Aug. 27, 2007 to promote his memoir and cookbook. McGrady, who now works for a family in Dallas, was photographed in the kitchen at the Hilton hotel on Richmond St. West. Aaron Lynett/Toronto Star) (Photo by Aaron Lynett/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Christmas tree traditions

There is a long royal tradition of separate Christmas trees for royal children to enjoy. Reports have said that each child gets their own miniature tree in their rooms.

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“As Queen Victoria’s children and grandchildren married into the royal houses of Europe, they brought with them tradition of nursery Christmas trees,” Harris said. “There is a long royal tradition of separate Christmas trees for royal children to enjoy.

“There are photographs of the children of Czar Nicholas II, who was married to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Alexandra, seated around their nursery Christmas tree in the the early 20th century.”

Royal watchers are always excited to get the first glimpse of the Queen’s Christmas tree in Buckingham Palace, too. It was unveiled last week.

It’s said that Prince Philip has the honour every year of placing the gold star on the top of the Christmas tree.

In the recently-released Channel 5 documentary Inside Sandringham: Holidaying With The Queen, royal commentator Dickie Arbiter says the monarch’s decorations don’t differ much from how the rest of the world decorates.

“[The Sandringham estate] is decorated in much the same way as people throughout the United Kingdom decorate their tree,” he said. “You’ve got the baubles, the tinsel, the coloured lights.”
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The tree this year is a 20-foot fir, adorned with maroon bows, ribbons and golden lights. It sits in St. George’s Hall. A similarly-decorated 15-foot tree is inside Windsor Castle’s Drawing Room.

Royal Collection Trust members of staff put the finishing touches to a 15ft Christmas tree in the Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor Castle, Berkshire. Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

The Queen’s Christmas message

Over the 65 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, she’s only ever missed one Christmas message, because the family believed at the time that they’d hogged too much of the spotlight.

That year, 1969, the documentary “Royal Family” was released and scheduled for the holiday period.

The first broadcast ever was delivered by George V in 1932 by radio and has since become an important part of holiday celebrations around the world, the royals’ official website reads.

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Her first message was broadcast in 1952, the year her father died and she took the throne as Queen.

Each message touches upon a theme and the most pressing issues in the world at the time. She gives her own views on events and developments.

In 1966, for example, she touched upon the great impact women have had in society. In 1983, she spoke of modern technologies helping transmit her broadcast, but “warned against allowing these technologies to replace human interaction and compassion.”

Do the Queen and Prince Philip give presents to her staff?

It’s not just the senior members of royalty who receive gifts from Her Majesty — she likes to dote on her palace staff, too.

Every year, continuing the tradition started by her father, King George VI, she gives Christmas pudding to her staff.

Paid for by the Queen through her personal finances, the Privy Purse, she gives out around 1,500 puddings to staff alongside a greeting card from herself and Prince Philip.

Click to play video: 'Royal Family releases  Christmas card photos'
Royal Family releases Christmas card photos

What do the royals give to the public?

On top of giving each other gifts, the family donates money to charity every year. The Queen also gives her Christmas trees to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.

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Churches and schools near Sandringham also receive a tree from the monarch.

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