Fresh-faced and cheery, it was a scene that's become typical of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
Playfully throwing fake snowballs at her husband Prince William and the 200 assembled guests at Kensington Palace during an event honouring the families of those serving in the military, Kate radiated happiness and contentment as she carried out her royal duty − an art she's been practising for 17 years.
Despite the continued reports of a feud between herself and new sister-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, it was Kate the consummate professional who turned out to celebrate Christmas at the grotto that was especially erected for the military families.
However, just metres away in Nottingham Cottage, Meghan and husband Prince Harry's current home in the grounds of the palace, there was a very different story − and a very unhappy new duchess.
It's supposed to be the season to be jolly. But for Meghan, Christmas could see her reach crisis point following the rumoured fallout between herself and Kate − two extremely different women whose main similarity was they both happened to fall in love with princes.
Just a few weeks ago, Meghan was looking forward to a relaxing holiday with her new in-laws at Sandringham, and the chance to have a well-earned rest after a huge year during which she married into Britain's first family, became pregnant and took on an arduous first overseas tour that included coming to New Zealand.
But now she is thought to be feeling under siege, amid reports that her relationship with Kate is so hostile the feisty American has had the mum-of-three in tears.
The floodgates opened two weeks ago when it was revealed that Meghan and Harry wouldn't be moving to a Kensington Palace apartment next door to the one occupied by Kate, William and their children Prince George (5), Princess Charlotte (3) and Prince Louis (eight months).
Instead, it was confirmed that the couple, who are expecting their first child in autumn next year, were planning on setting up home at Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor Estate.
One of the reasons given was that Harry (34) realised he needed to spread his wings and not live in his brother's shadow any more.
But then stories began doing the rounds that, in fact, the real reason for the move was that Kate (36) and Meghan (37) don't get on, and putting some distance between the pair − rather than having them practically living on top of each other at Kensington Palace − was deemed a good idea.
Claims of confrontations between the two women began to emerge. According to one source, the tension started last Christmas when Meghan is said to have suggested she did not feel entirely welcome with all members of the royal family.
Prince Charles – who has a soft spot for his new daughter-in-law – tried to smooth things over by getting Harry and Meghan to a dinner at William (36) and Kate's home. But apparently this backfired, and the couples reportedly had a "ghastly row".
According to one insider, things kicked off after Kate had a "quiet word" with Meghan, who then complained to Harry that she had been "told off".
"He took her side while William defended Kate, who was five months pregnant with Louis and certainly didn't want this sort of confrontation."
A royal aide says Meghan was "downright rude".
However, another source has come forward to say the couples actually enjoyed a memorable first Christmas together.
"They really loved Christmas and had a wonderful time. I think the two women got on – they are definitely not best friends, but it was a really special time for them all to spend together."
Nevertheless, this year there's talk that because of frostiness between the couples throughout 2018, Kate and William were planning on spending Christmas with Kate's family in Berkshire, while Harry and Meghan joined the rest of the royals at Sandringham for the traditional family Christmas there.
Then when Kate's mum Carole gave an interview, in which she talked about putting Christmas trees in each of her grandchildren's bedrooms so they could decorate them themselves, that seemed to be confirmation the Cambridges were giving Sandringham a miss.
But a source says William, Catherine and their children will attend the Sandringham festivities, while staying in their nearby country house, Anmer Hall.
Meghan will have her mum Doria Ragland with her and while it was initially thought Doria had been given the rare honour of spending Christmas with the royals because she would otherwise be alone, insiders have pointed out that perhaps it is Meghan who will need support from a loved one in what could be a tricky couple of days.
The Christmas bust-up last year was not the only time the women have had run-ins, according to other claims.
In a highly unusual step, Kensington Palace refuted one rumour in which it was alleged that Meghan and Kate also had words before Meghan's wedding to Harry on May 19 after the former actress was rude to Kate's staff.
A source said afterwards Kate told Meghan that the way she had behaved was "unacceptable". However,a palace spokesperson says, "This never happened."
The spokesperson declined to comment on other reports, including one that alleged Kate was left in tears after a stressful fitting for her daughter Charlotte's bridesmaid dress.
Meghan's supporters have pointed out that she was under a lot of stress in the weeks leading up to the wedding, especially when it was revealed that her father Thomas had colluded with a paparazzi photographer and was then hospitalised with heart problems, meaning he couldn't travel to the UK for the wedding.
There was added upset too when her requests to wear an emerald-studded tiara were denied, meaning she had to settle for Queen Mary's Diamond Bandeau. Then her plans to have atomisers in St George's Chapel because of the musty smell in the church, which dates back to the 14th century, were also shut down.
Buckingham Palace pointed out that the church was a regular place of worship for the Queen – and a long string of monarchs before her – and if it was good enough for them without air fresheners, then it would be good enough for Meghan's wedding.
After the stories began breaking about a rift between Kate and Meghan, a friend of William's told the media that the prince had raised concerns about his brother's girlfriend right at the very start.
"The problem was that the Cambridges felt things had moved very quickly between Harry and Meghan. Wills in particular was worried and felt close enough to Harry to voice his thoughts."
And in an effort to help Meghan make the transition into royal life, Kate arranged meetings to explain the rules of the family firm.
"The Duchess of Cambridge was saddened when her advice wasn't gladly taken, adding to a sense that Meghan was willing to ruffle feathers."
The ex-Suits star's forthright attitude has certainly caused ructions, particularly among her staff, who are said to be concerned about her "abrupt" and "authoritative" manner.
Meghan's personal assistant Melissa Touabti quit her job after only six months in the position because Meghan was so demanding, says an insider.
Melissa (39), had previously worked as a personal assistant for Robbie Williams and as a nanny for Madonna and Guy Ritchie, and played a crucial part in organising the royal wedding.
A friend of the Frenchwoman says, "Her job was highly pressurised and in the end it became too much. She put up with quite a lot. Meghan put a lot of demands on her and it ended up with her in tears.
"Melissa was a total professional and fantastic at her job, but things came to a head and it was easier for her to go her separate way."
A royal commentator says the very traits that endeared Meghan to Harry, such as her passion, independence and determination to make a difference, have made it hard for her to settle into the royal family.
"She's a woman who has lived her life into her 30s in her way, she's been a relatively successful actress, has her own humanitarian interests and her own circle of friends.
"She's very self-sufficient. Understanding the palace way, the deference, the politics and the fact thereis a pecking order is takinga while for Meghan to get her head around."
Tina Weaver, another royal commentator, says while Kate is relatively demure and very used to British life, Meghan is likea hurricane by comparison.
"That there has been tension between them was to be expected. The real surprise is anybody ever thought these two different women would want each other on speed dial."
And long-time royal writer Victoria Murphy says the arrival of a bride for Harry was bound to upset the apple cart, no matter who she was.
"Over the last seven years, we have become accustomed to seeing Harry, William and Kate as the Three Musketeers. The idea that anyone Prince Harry married would just slot right in, making three a cosy four, and things would carry on exactly as before, was always a little unrealistic."
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