How the British royal family celebrate Christmas – including the tradition that lets the young royals open their presents early

The royals take the festive season very seriously - and we love them for it!
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For many of us, Christmas signals a time to switch off, unwind, eat copious amounts of ham, drink a lot of rosé and nap.

But over the pond in the United Kingdom, it’s a completely different story if your blood runs blue.

Christmas with the British Royal Family is a serious production and every item on the festive agenda runs to a perfectly-timed schedule.

In terms of celebrations, the Queen’s annual gathering at her private country castle, Sandringham House in Norfolk, is the crème de la crème of Christmas shindigs: drenched in rigid formalities, strict protocol and a lot of mingling and polite small talk with senior members of the British monarchy.

A very merry and intense Christmas indeed!

The royal family’s annual gathering takes place at Sandringham House in Norfolk. (Image: Getty)

But once the official formalities are out of the way, Queen Elizabeth loves nothing more than spending time with her loved ones, tucking into the eggnog and having a laugh.

From the weird, wild and charmingly wonderful, as we countdown to Christmas 2019, here are the best Royal Family Christmas traditions of all time.

1. The schedule is insane

A jam-packed calendar of socialising kicks off with a black-tie dinner at Sandringham, Norfolk on Christmas Eve with key royal family members including Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla, the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince William and Duchess Catherine all in attendance.

Men suit up, women don designer gowns and apparently their best bling and tiaras!

This year Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan will not be joining the royal family for Christmas, with Buckingham Palace confirming last month that the couple and seven-month-old Archie will be spending the festive season with Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland – who will no doubt be exciting to be spending quality time with her grandson and daughter and son-in-law.

It’s of course not unheard of for royals to skip Sandringham every now and again. William and Catherine have done the same on several occasions, spending some Christmases with Catherine’s family the Middletons in Berkshire.

At Sandringham Christmas morning starts with a full English breakfast before the clan, led by the Queen, head to church for a morning service at St Mary Magdalene, followed by a 50-minute lunch, before gathering around the TV to watch the Queen’s pre-recorded Christmas message at 3pm on the dot.

If you’re thinking of sleeping in the next day, forget about it because there’s a round of pheasant shooting on Boxing Day.

The annual pilgrimage to church on Christmas morning gives fans a glimpse of their favourite royals. (Image: Getty)

2. They don’t open their presents on Christmas Day

Christmas is always best lived through the eyes of a child and for Prince George, six, Princess Charlotte, four, Prince Louis, one, and Archie, who will be ringing in his first Christmas, the little ones will get to open their presents on Christmas Eve with their loved ones.

The reason they get to dig into their stocking the night before Christmas is thanks to the Royal Family’s German heritage. As per German tradition – and many European cultures – families open their presents on December 24 and it seems this habit has stuck for the British Royals.

“On Christmas Eve, the Royal Family lay out their presents on trestle tables and will exchange their gifts at teatime,” their official website explains.

The young royals get to open their presents on Christmas Eve. (Image: Chris Jackson/Getty)

3. The Queen’s speech

Every year without fail, Her Majesty addresses the Commonwealth and the world delivering them a message of hope and peace.

The Queen’s speech also gives the public a chance to a peek inside one very decked out and festive Buckingham Palace.

WATCH: Young Queen Elizabeth’s first televised Christmas message from 1957. Story continues below…

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The royal Christmas Day message has been a staple of British broadcasting ever since George V first took to the radio in 1932.

While the Queen’s main job is to remain impartial to political matters, her annual Christmas speech is the one time of year she can express her thoughts outside of the government’s control.

It’s also a time of reflection as the Queen looks back at her family’s own personal milestones, from royal babies, to royal weddings – 2019 has seen the birth of another great-grandchild and another royal engagement.

In fact, the 93-year-old takes great pride in writing the speech herself.

Queen Elizabeth II smiles to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh just before the end of her first Christmas Day television speech on 25th December 1957. (Image: Getty)

4. Royal Christmas cards

As the year comes to an end, our favourite family often release a Christmas photo to thank the public for their support.

And for many avid royal watchers around the world, it’s not really Christmas until Prince William, Duchess Catherine and their angelic children pose for their annual festive photo and this year we’ll have the Sussexes’ new family-of-three to add to the mix.

And of course, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla also embrace the Christmas card tradition.

5. They love a laugh and a lark too

It’s not all pomp and ceremony and even the royals indulge in the festive season.

They reportedly enjoy popping open bespoke Christmas crackers (everyone rocks the colourful hats – even Her Majesty) and play party games like charades.

According to The Express, no one loves hearing the lame cracker jokes more than the Queen herself!

“When she was younger she used to make up her own to amuse the rest of the family. And Prince Phillip likes to joke that he’s pulled a cracker – much to the Queen’s amusement,” a source revealed to the publication.

Adding: “Prince Harry would always go around the table at Sandringham swapping the crackers around – making sure he placed the heaviest at his place setting. He still does it now.”

6. The Christmas menu is very traditional

Author of Eating Royalty, Darren McGrady, has cooked a whopping seven Christmas meals for the royals – and in news that will surprise no one, he says that the meals have always remained very traditional.

Speaking with Hello! Online Darren revealed, “It was the same meal every year.”

“They’re actually boring when it comes to festivities! They didn’t do hams or anything, just traditional turkeys. We did three turkeys for the Queen and her family in the royal dining room, one for the children’s nursery and then more for the 100 or so staff, so everyone had a Christmas lunch.”

Revealing the mainstays of the Christmas menu, Darren added, “turkey, different stuffings – sage and onion, chestnut – and the traditional sides like roast potatoes, mash potatoes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts.”

A flaming Christmas pudding is the ultimate end to any Christmas meal and perhaps it’s also the Queen’s favourite? (Image: Chris Jackson/Getty)

And for dessert? According to Darren, it was always Christmas pudding!

“The pudding was made in pudding basins, turned out, decorated in holly, doused in brandy and then the palace steward would carry it, flaming, into the royal dining room,” Darren said.

Later in the evening, after a walk around the grounds of Sandringham Estate, the royals would be treated to yet another elaborate meal in the form of a buffet.

Darren said, “When I was there Harrods would always give them a whole foie gras en croute. They’d have a whole Stilton cheese. We’d take the top off, pitchfork the top and pour port into it. It made this gorgeous spread for the crackers. It was really opulent. There was also a big York ham that was decorated.”

“Then after carving all of the meat, the Queen would then ask the steward to pour the Head Chef a drink and he’d get a whisky and they’d toast him and say thank you, and that was them saying thank you for the whole year.”

How lovely! Now, how do we score an invite?

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