15 Bizarre Royal Family Holiday Traditions
Like many of us, the British Royal Family goes above and beyond during the holiday season. Every Christmas, Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip invite their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to their country estate, Sandringham House for some fun, a bit of formality and quality time together. Most of the royal family’s Christmas traditions are reminiscent of our own. They attend church; they have a Christmas lunch and dinner, and they exchange gifts by the Christmas tree.
However, not all of the royal families holiday traditions are all that familiar. In fact, they have some strange customs that they throw in the mix over the holiday season. We don’t think animal lover, Duchess Meghan Markle will enjoy this tradition too much (page 12).
1. Presents on Christmas Eve
While many of us have to wait until December 25th to find out what’s been left for us under our trees, the royal family actually opens their gifts on Christmas Eve as the queen, and Prince Philip put the final touches on their massive Christmas tree. Former royal chef Darren McGrady told the Express, “The royals are of German descent, so they weave in German traditions to their celebrations. After afternoon tea, they open gifts on Christmas Eve, as is the German tradition.”
Though this might be confusing to some people, its perfect for Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis, who get to open more gifts on Christmas Day with the Middletons.
Next: Church at 9 and again at 11
2. Two church services
While many of us are accustomed to going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the British Royal Family takes things a step further. Instead of attending one church service, the Windsors attend two church services in the space of just three hours. Luckily, because the queen is no fan of long drawn out sermons, the services tend to be pretty quick. The family attends a private service at 9 a.m., and then they walk back to the church of St. Mary Magdalene for public worship at 11 a.m.
However, for the little royals who are probably eager to play and indulge in their gifts, this does seem like much fun. Younger royals aren’t typically expected to attend church until they turn five, which means Prince George might attend this year with his parents.
Next: Hitting the scale
3. Weighing in
Duchess Meghan Markle was able to spend her first Christmas with the royal family back in 2017 when she was just engaged to Prince Harry, so she’s probably used to this strange custom already. However, since her mother, Doria Ragland is joining in on the fun this year, she’s probably going to have to prepare her.
Before and after finishing up their Christmas dinner, the Windsors step on a scale. Royal expert and editor of Majesty magazine Ingrid Seward told Grazia that this is a long seated tradition dating back to the 1900s and King Edward VII that ensures that every member of the family is “well fed.” Apparently, the royals used to be quite gluttonous.
Next: A moment for tea of course.
4. Christmas Eve tea
As the tree is being finished up, the British Royal Family has Christmas Eve tea complete with an assortment of delicacies. Former royal chef Darren McGrady explained the tea menu. He said, “It was always the chocolate Yule log, which was a twist on the chocolate birthday cake, scones, mince pies, different types of sandwiches and the Christmas cake. We’d make one big Christmas cake for the Queen and the royal family and then another smaller one for the nursery for Prince William, Prince Harry, Zara, Peter, Princess Beatrice, and Princess Eugenie. It was always fruitcake – royal icing, marzipan, and the traditional fruitcake.”
After afternoon tea, the royals open their gifts.
Next: A singing hamster and fake dog poo
5. Gag gifts
Since the royals are more than a little well-off and they can get whatever they want at the touch of a button, they don’t exchange traditional gifts at Christmas time. Instead, they try to come up with more creative presents. Former Royal Chef Darren McGrady told People, “The crazier and the more quirky is what they love. It’s not about something really amazing or a Cartier watch.”
For her first Christmas gift to the queen, Duchess Meghan Markle purchased the royal matriarch a singing hamster which was apparently quite delightful.
We think the late Princess Diana still wins for the best gag gift of all time. Former butler Paul Burrell told Express U.K., “She’d spend hours looking for jokey things for their stockings. One year, Harry got fake dog poo.”
Next: The queen and her paper crown
6. Christmas Crackers, corny jokes, and a paper hat
Chrismas lunch is just as festive as Christmas Eve tea. During lunch, Queen Elizabeth II wears the paper hat that comes in a traditional Christmas Cracker. A Christmas Cracker is a cardboard paper tube which is wrapped in brightly colored paper and twisted at both ends. When the cracker is pulled apart by two people, it makes a banging sound. The queen sits at the head of the table and shares corny jokes with her family as they eat. The History and Heritage Accommodation Guide noted, “The idea of wearing a paper crown may have originated from the Twelfth Night celebrations, where a King or Queen was appointed to look over the proceedings.”
Next: Christmas until February
7. Leaving the decorations up until February
While most people are packing their decorations up by the time the New Year rolls around, the royals leave their decorations up until well into February. Since her father, King George VI died on February 6, 1952 — Queen Elizabeth and the royal family celebrate both Christmas and the New Year together at Sandringham House.
In honor of her father, the queen leaves the decorations up until Feb. 6.
Next: A brisk game of football (not the American kind).
8. A Christmas soccer match
Though the weather won’t exactly be warm and lush, Prince William and Prince Harry have started their own Christmas tradition — a soccer game. The athletic royals team up with the Sandringham estate workers to play nearby villagers for charity. Usually, the game involves quite a bit of trash talking.
Hopefully, the brothers will continue the game this year even though they got into a Christmas spat in 2017. Royal expert Katie Nicholl told Vanity Fair, “Harry felt William wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for Meghan and told him so. They had a bit of a fall out, which was only resolved when [their dad Prince] Charles stepped in and asked William to make an effort. That’s when the Cambridges invited the Sussexes to spend Christmas with them.”
Next: A black-tie dinner
9. A formal dinner
Though the Christmas Eve tea is a more informal affair, the royal family pulls out their most dapper attire for their formal Christmas Eve dinner. The event is a black tie affair and involves Dubonnet-and-gin cocktails, cherry brandy and cider that’s made on the estate. The dinner is held quite late, around 8:30 pm in the evening.
This meal is much more elaborate than lunch. Former chef McGrady explained, “The buffet was when they brought out the whole spread. 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.”
Next: Whiskey for the chef
10. Toasting to the chef
Christmas is the only time the main royal chef comes out to greet the royal family. Christmas dinner involves two 25-lb turkeys, and they are rolled out to the table by the head chef and his team for carving.
McGrady told People, “At the end of the carving, it’s the one time of the year that she would give the head chef a drink, and he will toast [the family] with “Happy Christmas.” He’d get a whiskey and they’d toast him and say thank you, and that was them saying thank you for the whole year.”
Next: Puzzles and charades
11. A game of charades
While many of us like to snuggle up in front of a movie with our families during the holidays, the royal family likes to engage in a robust game of charades. Apparently, the queen does excellent impressions of heads of state she’s known through the years.
Last year, Duchess Meghan Markle was warned to turn down her acting abilities and resist the “American urge” to win at everything. It’s not her fault if other people are sore losers. Apparently, the royals also like puzzles.
Next: The annual pheasant hunt
12. A royal hunt
The Windsors are super outdoorsy, and they’ve been known to indulge in a hunt or two during the Christmas holidays. On Boxing Day, which is December 26, Prince Philip wraps up the formal holiday events with a traditional pheasant hunt on the estate.
Though the Duchess of Sussex seemed to enjoy the rest of the royal Christmas festivities, as an avid animal lover, we don’t see her getting into this tradition. We wonder if Prince Harry will choose to partake this year.
Next: Burning off the food in their bellies.
13. Making room for more food
The queen also requires some time allotted for exercise. Therefore, most of the royals like to take a walk through the estate. A walk seems like a good idea after the lunches, teas, and dinners that are eaten. According to Royal expert Ingrid Seward, after Christmas lunch, the guests are taken on a brisk walk “to make room for more food,” tea and a “gargantuan iced cake” is served.
We love the fact that even for the royals, calories don’t count on Christmas.
Next: Scones and sandwiches shaped like money
14. Jam penny sandwiches
Though many of the royals’ Christmas dishes are very familiar to us, there is one that appears to be an odd one on the menu. During tea on Christmas Eve, the royal family is served jam penny sandwiches which are sandwiches that are cut into circles the size of an old English penny.
They are also served scones which are cut into the size and shape of a 50-pence piece. Apparently, money is a major theme here.
Next: Over 1,000 Christmas cards.
15. Christmas cards in July
While many of us are rushing to get our holiday cards delivered before Dec. 25th, the queen and Prince Philip get their cards ready to ship out during their annual summer holiday at their Balmoral estate. The royal couple sends out 850 Christmas cards to heads of state, leading politicians, Commonwealth leaders, friends, and family. Separately, Prince Philip sends out 200 Christmas cards to the military, naval, and civilian organizations with which he is associated.
If you want to know how close you really are to the queen, her signature on the Christmas cards will tell you all you need to know. The Windsors receive the queen’s cards signed, Lillibet. Dear friends get theirs signed Elizabeth, without the R, while others like the Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and the Speak of the House of Commons get a formal Elizabeth R.
If you’re really low on the Christmas card totem pole, you can look out for a nice rubber-stamp with the Queen’s signature.