Entertainment Celebrity The right-royal rites and ratbaggery of the Queen’s family Christmas

The right-royal rites and ratbaggery of the Queen’s family Christmas

The Queen arrives at King's Lynn station in Norfolk on Thursday ahead of Christmas festivities. Photo: Getty
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By now the Queen is likely snuggled up beside a fire at Sandringham House in Norfolk for the holidays, ready to welcome the royal family for Christmas.

Like many folk, the 92-year-old monarch made the journey to the country house by train, except for one crucial difference – the monarch hired an entire first-class carriage of the train for her annual journey to the Norfolk estate, a two-hour journey from London.

The Queen’s journey is just one of the unusual traditions the Windsors won’t go without come Christmas time.

The Queen’s Christmas luggage on her way to Sandringham Estate. Photo: Getty

Each year, soon after the Queen hosts the annual holiday lunch for members of the royal family at Buckingham Palace in the week leading up to Christmas, she then travels to the Norfolk estate.

The decades-old tradition starts with the Windsors arriving on Christmas Eve for afternoon tea, settling into their rooms, and the younger members of the family putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree.

Former royal chef Darren McGrady says there are usually two – a large Christmas tree and a silver artificial tree in the dining room that is about 30 years old.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Princess Charlotte attend a Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace ahead of festivities at Norfolk. Photo: Getty

The Queen makes sure there aren’t too many baubles on one side of the tree, according to the former chef.

“The Queen is not lavish, so the décor is minimal,” he told Good Housekeeping.

In recognition of the Windsors’ German heritage, the royal family opens presents on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day.

But before you prepare yourself for gift envy, the Windsor family tradition is more about laughs than luxe items, with members of the family exchanging “gag” gifts that could be found at a novelty shop.

royal christmas traditions
The royal family in a drawing room at Sandringham House in 1969. Photo: Getty

To perhaps avoid the awkward fact that they don’t really need anything, and that the Queen is the proud owner of the crown jewels, more random, low-key gifts are presented on a trestle table, with many Windsors embracing the chance to take a dig at a fellow family member.

Before Prince Harry married US TV star Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge once gave her brother-in-law and then bachelor a Grow Your Own Girlfriend Kit.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex arrive at The Royal Variety Performance.

Never one to miss out on the fun, Harry also once gave the Queen  an Ain’t Life a Bitch bath hat. Unfortunately no photographs of Her Majesty reaction have surfaced online.

Pomp and circumstance, however, is not forgotten, with the Windsors dressing up for each other at an intimate, candle-lit dinner where the champagne keeps flowing.

It’s a “relatively formal affair, with the men wearing black-tie suits and the women wearing gowns, expensive jewellery, and tiaras,” according to The Telegraph.

Come Christmas morning, the royals also take part in another antiquated ritual – splitting the men and the women at social events.

The Windsor men eat a hearty British “fry up” of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, kippers and grilled kidneys, while the women traditionally opt for a light breakfast of sliced fruit and half a grapefruit served in their rooms, according to former royal chef Darren McGrady.

At 11am the royal crew walks to the church service at St Mary Magdalene, where the press can catch a few rare snaps of the otherwise private celebrations at the country estate.

Last year, Prince Harry and his then-fiancée Meghan Markle were among those who walked to the small church, an unprecedented honour before she officially joined the family this year.

Prince Harry and then-fiancee Meghan Markle walking to church last year. Photo: Getty

Drinking gets underway straight after prayers and hymns.

Her Majesty sips a gin cocktail, Prince Philip brandishes a beer, a cherry brandy for Prince Charles and a pint or two of Sandringham cider made from apples grown in the grounds of the estate for the boys, Prince William and Harry.

Christmas lunch is served without delay, starting at 1pm sharp, and featuring a roast turkey with all the trimmings, and usually a salad with shrimp or lobster.

In a quaint tradition to recognise the staff, the head chef enters the dining room, carves the roast and Her Majesty presents the chef with a toast for their efforts with a glass of whisky.

In waistcoats popping at the seams, everyone gathers at 3pm to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas speech to the nation and the Commonwealth.

It’s required viewing for the royals, as the only speech the Queen gets to write herself without any government involvement.

In her 2017 address, the Queen told viewers of a “young woman” who once spoke of the speed of technological advances.

The video then flashes to the young Queen Elizabeth of 60 years ago presenting the first television broadcast of its kind from Sandringham Estate.

“Six decades on the presenter has evolved somewhat; as has the technology she described,” Her Majesty quips.

While many of us might be trying to catch a bargain at Boxing Day sales, the Sandringham estate hosts the annual pheasant shoot.

Last year Harry skipped the shoot, reportedly out of respect for Meghan’s strong views on animal rights, but it is not yet known if he will again be an apology for the 2018 event.

The decision only amplified suggestions of Meghan’s similarities to the late Princess Diana, who also disliked hunting sports.

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