For the Queen, nothing is last minute at Christmas time. So much so that according to the royals’ official website, Her Majesty starts signing the 750 personal cards she sends every year during her summer holidays, six months before the big day.
That tradition is just one of a buffet of Windsor customs the Queen laid down in 1952, including a black-tie dinner, monogrammed gifts and – unfair advantage to former actress Meghan Markle – a family game of charades.
This year, Kate Middleton and Prince William kicked things off by appearing with British cookery queen Mary Berry on a BBC Christmas food special.
Kate divulged she has so many Berry recipe books that one of Prince Louis’ first words was “Mary.”
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🎄The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have joined forces with cookery legend Mary Berry to prepare festive food for a special Christmas Party to thank all those working and volunteering over the Christmas period. Our followers in the UK can watch 'A Berry Royal Christmas' on BBC One tonight at 8.30pm, and on the BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000cfrm
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THE QUEEN HAS AN OFFICE PARTY
At her annual staff party, held this year on December 16, the Queen had Prince Charles and – in a sign the family is behind hin – Prince Andrew on hand to thank the servants. The monarch personally hands out gifts which have her ‘EIIR’ cypher on them and in past years have included framed photos, alarm clocks and enamel boxes.
THEN SHE ASKS THE RELATIVES OVER
The Queen invites up to 50 royals to Buckingham Palace for a Wednesday “all the trimmings” lunch that includes a Sandringham-bred turkey. The Marble Hall is decked with three fir trees dressed in Windsor-themed ornaments, and guests sit at round tables, pull crackers and put on paper hats, according to The Telegraph.
TREES ARE A BIG THING
Apart from the three at the palace, the monarch also has a 6m Nordmann fir and giant silver artificial tree at Sandringham, decorated for 2019 “in a Victorian fashion with velvet and gold,” according to the Royal Family Instagram account. (There are also 20,000 lights.) She gives them away too: according to her site, the Queen donates trees to Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral from Sandringham.
ALL ABOARD FOR SANDRINGHAM
After the family lunch, the Queen catches a public train 160kms to Kings Lynn station in Norfolk. The station is a short drive from her Sandringham estate and a reunion with husband Prince Philip, who moved to a cottage there after retiring from public life in 2017.
THE GERMAN LEGACY
In a nod to their German heritage, the royals hang the last baubles on the six-metre fir tree in the White Drawing Room then lay presents out on long tables and get stuck in over afternoon tea. “They prefer to give jokey stocking fillers,” author Harry Mount wrote in The Telegraph. “Novelty mugs are a particular favorite.” Popular lore has it that pre-Meghan, Kate gave Harry a Grow Your Own Girlfriend kit, and the Queen once handed off a $32 Formica folding tea trolley.
THE FORMAL BIT
Once the wrapping paper is gathered up to be recycled, the Windsors sit down at a formal black tie dinner where the women crack out their jewels and the Queen insists on her favorite ‘Zaza’ cocktail made from gin and Dubonnet, according to PopSugar.
THE ROYAL WALK
On Christmas Day, senior royals gather at Sandringham House to walk to St Mary Magdalene church. This year, Prince Harry and Meghan will be missing – with son Archie, they’re celebrating in an unnamed location with the duchess’ mother Doria Ragland – but Prince William and Kate Middleton will head over with the kids from their nearby home, Anmer Hall. It’s been speculated Prince George, 6, and Princess Charlotte, 4, might make their walk debut this year.
THE MAIN EVENT
Yes, another Christmas lunch, this time in the dining room at Sandringham where the 24-seat dining table is laid with placemats of hunting scenes and charades is enforced after the food.
THE MATRIARCH TAKES CENTRE STAGE
At 3pm, the family watches the Queen’s Christmas Message on TV, which she re-records. This year, it’s likely to mention the happy times – Archie’s birth, Princess Beatrice’s engagement – but given her reputation for diplomatic candidness, could also touch on the Andrew scandal.
BRINGING IN THE BIG GUNS
For the sport mad royals, Boxing Day means the customary shoot at which the Queen is a picker-upperer of pheasants. “As one guest, told me, “It slightly concentrates your mind when you’re shooting and you know Her Majesty is standing behind you, seeing how good, or bad, a shot you are,” wrote Harry Mount.