Christmas is an exciting and extravagant time of year. But it’s even more over the top if you happen to be a royal. To give you an idea of what we mean, think tiaras, pomp, ceremony and, yes, leopard-print mats. Yet a royal family Christmas may not be entirely what you expect. So, as 2018 saw fresh blood added to the family, here’s what a new royal can expect for the holidays.
It has, after all, been a very busy year for the royals. Firstly, in April 2018 Kate Middleton gave birth to Prince Louis. He was Kate and Prince William’s third child. And in July that year the Archbishop of Canterbury christened little Louis in a ceremony at St James’s Palace in London.
The new arrival has, of course, seemingly fit perfectly into royal life. In December 2018, in fact, William and Kate released the official family picture that adorns their Christmas cards. The adorable photograph shows a grinning Louis alongside his parents and two older siblings.
The media later commented on how much Louis had grown since the world had last seen him. And fans were quick to realize that he was also wearing baby clothes previously worn by his older brother, George. Just because you’re a royal, it seems, it doesn’t mean you can’t be thrifty.
But Louis wasn’t the only new member to join the royal family in 2018. It was also, of course, the year that Meghan Markle married Prince Harry and became a duchess. The wedding, which took place in May 2018 at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, was watched by millions worldwide. And due to the bride’s nationality, there was plenty of interest from the U.S. too.
Harry and Meghan have now seemingly settled into life as a married couple. And the latter has quickly become a fashion icon as well. In fact, sales of certain brands shoot up as soon as the duchess has been seen wearing them. Karen Gee’s website broke down after Meghan was seen sporting one of its designer dresses, for instance. The media later dubbed this the “the Meghan effect.”
Meanwhile, the royal family was in for even more exciting times in 2018. In October, you see, Princess Eugenie of York married businessman Jack Brooksbank. And while this wedding didn’t enjoy quite the same level of media coverage as Harry and Meghan’s earlier in the year, it still did raise a few eyebrows. Notably, Eugenie chose to wear an open-backed dress that showed off a scar she’d received from an operation as a child.
And just a few days after Eugenie’s wedding in October 2018, Harry and Meghan informed the world that they were expecting a baby. “Their Royal Highnesses… are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the spring of 2019,” a statement on the Kensington Palace official Twitter account read.
“Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public,” Kensington Palace concluded. Royal fans were delighted, especially since Harry and Meghan were about to embark on their first official overseas tour together.
And true to form, it seems that all of the exciting recent royal events have been steeped in tradition. When you’re a member of that illustrious family, you see, you’re apparently expected to follow all the old rules – even if some of them seem archaic now. The christening of Prince Louis, for example, involved the baby wearing a replica of a dress made in 1841.
The original dress was actually for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, who wore it at her christening. Elizabeth II, the Queen, was baptized in it too. But now the original dress is considered too delicate to be used anymore. So ever since 2004 the royal family has used the replica.
And in addition to royal christenings, the family’s weddings also tend to get a lot of attention. Those who followed every aspect of Harry and Meghan’s nuptials will, for instance, know that the bride chose to uphold the custom of having something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.
So Meghan’s dress was “new,” and she “borrowed” a beautiful tiara from the Queen. And her “old” items were very touching too. These included some pieces of myrtle from the Queen’s own wedding bouquet and a small piece of Harry’s late mother Diana’s wedding dress. The “blue,” meanwhile, was some fabric from the dress Meghan wore on her first date with her new husband.
Meghan also followed the tradition of mainly having children from the family as her bridesmaids and page boys. So Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Harry’s goddaughters Florence van Cutsem and Zalie Warren, and Ivy Mulroney, the daughter of Meghan’s friend Jessica, joined her down the aisle.
There were some wedding traditions that Harry and Meghan seemingly chose not to follow, however. One of them involved the wedding cake. Generally, you see, royal couples have a fruit cake on their big day – but Harry and Meghan didn’t want one. Instead, they had a delicious-looking elderflower and buttercream sponge creation.
Meghan and Harry broke with tradition when it came to their clergyman as well. A senior member of the Church of England – which the Queen is supreme governor of – usually oversees a royal wedding. But the new duke and duchess instead chose a priest from America: Bishop Michael Curry.
And Meghan arguably broke a Christmas royal tradition before she even married Harry. Back in 2017, in fact, she was invited to the Queen’s Sandringham House estate for Christmas with the royals. This was seemingly an unusual move.
Because while Meghan was engaged to Harry at the time, she was not yet his wife. Apparently, fiancées aren’t traditionally invited to the three-day annual celebration, only spouses. Even Kate Middleton didn’t get to go before her wedding in 2011. So it seems that Meghan was an exception, as royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams explained to the Daily Express in December 2017.
“Only spouses and close family are usually invited,” Fitzwilliams explained. “However, Harry and Meghan will be living together at Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace, and her family are in the United States. The monarchy relies heavily on precedent and tradition, but it also makes its own.”
It does indeed seem that the monarchy rely heavily on tradition – but at Christmas those customs aren’t necessarily what you’d expect. For a start, there’s the issue of Christmas presents. What do you buy, after all, for a member of the royal family, who presumably has access to any item a person could conceivably want?
Well, the royals actually apparently buy one another ridiculous gag gifts as a tradition. Diana once allegedly bought Sarah Ferguson a leopard-print bath mat, for instance. And reportedly back when Harry was single, Kate gifted him a “Grow Your Own Girlfriend Kit.” Oh, to be a fly on that wall.
Though Harry apparently dishes out his own joke gifts too, of course. According to royal biographer Brian Hoey, the prince once gifted his grandmother – the Queen, one of the most respected and popular public figures in the world – a shower cap reading “Ain’t Life A B****.” And she reportedly liked it!
Other royal Christmas traditions are likely considerably more formal and highbrow, however. And they involve that old royal custom: rank. When guests arrive at Sandringham, for instance, they are apparently supposed to do so according to their “place” within the family. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles supposedly come last, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for harmony.
Yet somehow the royals must make it work – even though Christmas at the palace is probably very complex. New guests apparently even get given maps and timetables so they don’t get lost. And it’s supposedly an absolute necessity to bring several changes of clothes along.
In 2017 How to Dress Like a Princess author Claudia Joseph explained it all to Vogue. “For lunch on Christmas Eve, the men wear suits and the women wear smart silk dresses, but they change into black [ties] and glamorous gowns for dinner,” she said. “It’s the one time the women wear their most expensive jewelry and almost all wear tiaras.”
But there are allegedly rules about tiaras too. You’re reportedly only supposed to wear one if you’re a married woman. And although tiaras are so beautiful most people would want to wear them as much as possible, royals are apparently only supposed to wear them from 6:00 p.m. onwards.
And Christmas Day is an extremely busy affair as well. First, the royals get dressed up in nice outfits to walk to St Mary Magdalene Church for the morning Christmas service. Other than the Queen, of course, who drives there. So if you want to spot a royal at Christmas, that church is the place to be.
Then comes the Christmas dinner, which is supposedly a huge feast. The Queen reportedly gets served before anyone else, naturally. “The head chef, accompanied by some of his team, carve the first of two 25-pound turkeys at the buffet in the dining room, with the Queen first in line,” royal commentator Robert Jobson told Vogue in December 2017.
“There is also a buffet of foie gras, boar’s head, venison and salmon trout. Once everyone has sat down with their meat, the butlers will come around with their Brussels sprouts with fresh roasted chestnut and roast potatoes,” Jobson added to Vogue. “Dessert is two Christmas puddings and brandy sauce, mince pies and hard butter.”
Luckily, the staff reportedly aren’t forgotten during the festive dinner. “At the end of the carving, it’s the one time of the year that [the Queen] would give the head chef a drink, and he will toast the family with ‘Happy Christmas,’” Jobson continued. And if you happen to work at the palace, you will apparently get Christmas presents too.
The royal family website states, “All members of the royal household will receive Christmas presents from the Queen, and Her Majesty will personally hand out presents to some members of The Royal Household at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle.” So it does pay to work as a royal employee!
The royal website has more to say on the subject too. “Continuing the tradition from her father, King George VI, and her grandfather, George V, the Queen also gives Christmas puddings to her staff. About 1,500 Christmas puddings paid for by the Queen… are distributed to staff throughout the palaces, staff in the Court Post Office and Palace police.”
All the puddings are also sent with Christmas cards from the Queen. In fact, sending out cards appears to be a pretty big part of a royal Christmas. The Queen and Prince Philip, for instance, post about 750 of them each year, with their official cyphers attached. Prime Ministers, politicians and members of the royal household all get one. Prince Charles and Camilla also do a similar thing.
And of course, each Christmas the Queen delivers a speech to her subjects on television. This is a tradition with a long history behind it. In 1932 the Queen’s grandfather, King George V, delivered the very first Royal Christmas Message via radio. Her father, King George VI, took over after that and then it became her responsibility.
The Queen’s speech is broadcast to several countries on Christmas Day, and millions of viewers tune into it. In the Queen’s Jubilee year in 2012, it was even broadcast in 3D, which would likely have been beyond the wildest dreams of George V.
In fact, the royals themselves all settle down to watch the Queen’s speech together. And it’s reportedly a solemn occasion: no jokes are allowed. But after that, things do seemingly get more relaxed. The family even apparently retires to a drawing room, where they do jigsaw puzzles.
And of course, the royals are free to admire the Christmas decorations that adorn the palace. For the 2018 festive period, for instance, a 30-foot Christmas tree was erected on the lawn of Kensington Palace. Nearby Buckingham Palace likewise went all-out with the trees, with no less than three of them going on display in the Marble Hall.
“The custom of displaying Christmas trees was introduced to Britain in the late 18th [century] by Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, although it was a yew tree rather than a fir that was used,” the royal family announced on Instagram in December 2018. “The Christmas tree was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 19th century.”
So it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who are widely credited with advancing one of the longest-lasting Christmas traditions. And the act of putting up a tree at Christmas extends far beyond just the royal family, of course. Albert is also credited as having introduced the idea of presenting gingerbread as a Christmas gift.
So there you have a royal Christmas. It seems like a truly incredible occasion, full of nods to British history. And next year there will be even more people to celebrate it, as Meghan gives birth to her and Harry’s first child in 2019. Hopefully, the new generation of royal children will pass the old traditions down as well.