What It’s Really Like to Spend Christmas With the British Royal Family

Ever wonder how the British royal family celebrates the holidays? Surprisingly enough, they have somewhat normal Christmas traditions. From the gifts they give to the way they spend their Christmas Eve, we share what it’s really like to spend Christmas with the Queen and her family, ahead.

1. No presents on Christmas Day

gift boxes with bows
The family opens gifts the night before. | iStock/Getty Images

You won’t see the royal family opening presents on Christmas Day. Instead, they open gifts from one another in the Red Drawing Room on Christmas Eve. In fact, most of their Christmas traditions occur on Dec. 24.

2. Gag gifts only

None of the gifts are serious or expensive. | iStock/Getty Images

What do you buy a family that has it all? Gag gifts! Instead of exchanging nice, expensive gifts, members of the royal family give each other humorous — and sometimes inappropriate — gifts. Before Meghan Markle came along, Kate Middleton once gifted Prince Harry a plastic Grow Your Own Girlfriend. And Prince Harry gave the Queen a shower cap that read: “Ain’t Life a B*tch!”

3. Christmas is celebrated at Sandringham Estate

Prince Andrew, Duke of York looks on whilst Queen Elizabeth II receives a round of applause from guests
The house is on the small side by royal standards. | Adrian Dennis – WPA Pool/Getty Images

While Buckingham Palace can fit much more people in it, the Queen prefers to spend Christmas at Sandringham Estate. And while it may seem large to you, there aren’t enough rooms to house everyone, so some of the family members have to sleep in the staff quarters. Even the royal family crams together for the holidays!

4. The Queen must spend one whole week planning

The Queen adores Christmas | John Stillwell-WPA Pool/Getty Images

There’s no denying that Christmas is the Queen’s favorite holiday. In fact, she loves it so much that she insists on planning the festivities herself and carves out an entire week’s worth of time to get everything ready for her family members.

5. The rest of the royal family arrives by train on Christmas Eve

The rest of the family joins the Queen via train. | John Stillwell/PA Wire

Once the Queen is ready, the rest of her family joins her on Christmas Eve. And, get this: They arrive by royal train.

6. Prince William and Prince Harry play soccer

Princes William and Harry enjoy some sibling competition. | Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be the holidays without sports, and the royal family agrees! Prince Harry and Prince William in particular enjoy a soccer match on Christmas Eve while other members of the royal family watch.

7. Christmas Eve dinner doesn’t start until 8:30 p.m.

Royal Banquet
Attendees may want to bring a snack. | Lewis Whyld – WPA Pool/Getty Images

If you happen to be invited for Christmas Eve dinner at Sandringham Estate, don’t expect to eat an early dinner. Christmas Eve dinner typically starts at around 8:30 p.m..

8. No garlic in Christmas dinner

close-up of an unpeeled garlic clove
Queen Elizabeth II hates garlic. | iStock.com

The British royal family has quite the laundry list of food rules. One of the biggest rules? No garlic. The Queen is not a fan, therefore garlic is not allowed in Christmas dinner.

9. It’s the one time a year the Queen allows the head chef to have a drink with the royal family

It’s a special occasion, after all. | Yui Mok – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Christmas Eve dinner is a special occasion for the royal head chef — it’s the one time a year the Queen allows them to have a drink (and lead the toast) with the royal family.

10. Christmas lunch is a bigger deal than Christmas dinner

The family eats turkey for lunch. | iStock.com

On Christmas Day, the royal family indulges in a big turkey lunch vs. a Christmas dinner.

11. After lunch, the Queen films her annual Christmas message

The Queen addresses the people on Christmas. | Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

After lunch, the royal family heads to the White Drawing Room for some afternoon tea while the Queen tends to her royal duties: Filming her annual Christmas message to the good people of Britain.

12. They enjoy jam penny sandwiches at tea time

Cup of tea on a blue stone background
The royal family enjoys sweet sandwiches with their tea. | Anna Pustynnikova/iStock/Getty Images

During tea time, the family enjoys light bites. One of their favorites? Jam penny sandwiches. Cut into old English penny-sized circles, these tiny sandwiches are a must.

13. The children add the last few decorations to the tree

Kate Middleton church christmas
Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and the other royal children help decorate the tree. | Andrew Matthews – WPA Pool/Getty Images

In addition to tea time, the children of the royal family — including the Queen’s grandchildren — get to add the last few decorations to the family’s Christmas tree.

14. Church on Christmas day

The royal family attends two services. | Chris Jackson/Getty Images

On Christmas Day, the family enjoys an early breakfast together, then heads to the church of St. Mary Magdalene for a private service at 9 a.m.. Then, the family heads back to Sandringham Estate to change (their private service has a more relaxed dress code) and attends a public service at 11 a.m..

15. Movie night

(L-R) Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince George of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (R) watch the fly-past from the balcony of Buckingham Palace following the Trooping The Colour ceremony on June 13, 2015 in London, England. The ceremony is Queen Elizabeth II's annual birthday parade and dates back to the time of Charles II in the 17th Century, when the Colours of a regiment were used as a rallying point in battle. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
The royal family has some pretty average traditions, too. | Chris Jackson/Getty Images

After church and Christmas lunch, the family partakes in an even more normal Christmas tradition: movie night. Only, their movie night takes place in the ballroom at Sandringham Estate, which just so happens to house a collection of bladed weapons.

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