The Royals at Christmas

Most families have their own festive traditions and the royals are no different. We take a peek inside the palace to find out how the Queen spends Christmas.

Princess Elizabeth and Margaret

by Emily Gilbert |

Christmas is a time to spend with family and that goes for the royals too. Every year they take a break from their official duties and spend Christmas together in private, generally at Sandringham, the Queen’s country estate in Norfolk.

Traditionally the family assemble on Christmas Eve and open their presents in the afternoon before a formal candle- lit dinner in the evening.

On Christmas morning, a full English breakfast is served before the family heads to the local church.

The first royal Christmas broadcast was delivered in 1932 by George V – as a way of reaching out across theCommonwealth. The text of the speechwas written by Rudyard Kipling and began: “I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all.”

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret
©Alamy

As children, Elizabeth and her younger sister starred in Christmas pantomimes. Princess Margaret came up with the idea to boost wartime morale. Written by a local headteacher, Hubert Tanner, the plays were performed in front of a privileged and private audience in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle with music provided by the Salon Orchestra of The Royal Horse Guards.

A signed photograph of Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth
©Alamy

The first play was Cinderella in 1941, in which Margaret took the title role and Elizabeth played Prince Florizel complete with white wig. The following year was Sleeping Beauty and then in 1943 our future Queen played Aladdin. The final production in 1944 was intriguingly called Old Mother Red Riding Boots.

The Royal family's Christmas photo album

King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother, Princess Elizabeth  and Princess Margaret
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Princess Margaret waves as the family leave for their Christmas break in Sandringham.

Queen Elizabeth II making her first Christmas Day broadcast
©Alamy

For her first Christmas speech Queen Elizabeth II used the same desk and microphone as her father had done for the previous 14 years.

Viscount Linley

Young Viscount Linley leads the way to the train when the family set off to Sandringham in 1963. He is followed by the Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and the corgis.

Prince Charles and Princess Anne
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Trying to keep order: Prince Charles and Princess Anne try to assemble the royal children for a family photo on Christmas morning 1969. From left: Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, James Ogilvy, George Windsor (guided by Prince Charles),

Lady Helen Windsor, Viscount Linley, and behind him Prince Andrew, Marina Ogilvy (held by Princess Anne) and Prince Edward.

Traditional Christmas Day Service at Sandrigham
©Alamy

Well-wishers gather outside the local church on Christmas Day for a glimpse of the family, above. In 1985 Her Majesty was joined by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and her children Zara and Peter Phillips.

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Prince Philip
©Alamy

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Prince Philip, arrives at King’s Lynn train station to travel to Sandringham for Christmas Day in 2017.

Christmas service at St Mary Magdalene
©Alamy

Queen Elizabeth leads members of the royal family including Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Princes William and Kate Middleton as they attend a Christmas service at St Mary Magdalene church on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

A right Royal Christmas

We take a look at the gifts the royals give and take a lighthearted guess at what might be in their stockings this year!

  • For Meghan’s first Christmas with the Royal Family, she heard of the Queen’s penchant for joke gifts, the more ridiculous the better, and decided to buy her a singing soft toy hamster. Apparently, the Queen absolutely loved it!

  • Kate, however, went for a different approach for her first Christmas at Sandringham, making the Queen her grandmother’s recipe for chutney. Kate clearly loves making things, so we wonder what gifts she’ll cook up for the family this Christmas.

  • Every year the Queen gives her staff a book or gift token up to the value of £35 and a Christmas pudding. While the puds used to come from Fortnum & Mason, today she apparently buys Tesco Finest!

  • The Queen and Prince Philip are always first to arrive at Sandringham, the week before Christmas, while the rest of the family turn up throughout the day on Christmas eve.

  • Anne and Charles are notorious for giving funny presents and Charles’ favourite ever gift was apparently a leather toilet seat from his sister, which he apparently still uses on his travels. Given the lavatorial theme, we wonder if the popular Christmas game, Toilet Trouble, where you get sprayed by a flush, might be in their stockings!

  • There are a lot of jokes in the family about William’s baldness and in the past Meghan even bought him a ginger Tam O’Shanter wig for Christmas!

  • On Christmas Day, after the morning walk to church and a three-course Christmas lunch, the Royal Family gather in front of the television to watch the Queen’s speech at 3pm.

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