The British royal family is just like any other family in some ways, especially when it comes to celebrating Christmas.
During the Christmas season, the royals participate in many traditions that are celebrated around the world, such as attending a Christmas mass. However, there are some traditions that aren’t as well-known as others.
This Christmas marks the second year the royals will be ringing in the jolly holiday without the late Queen Elizabeth II. Since her passing in September 2022, King Charles III has taken over many beloved traditions once spearheaded by the Queen.
The royal family typically leaves Buckingham Palace just before Christmas and heads to Sandringham House, the late Queen’s country estate in Norfolk. There, they attend a Christmas Day church service a short distance from Sandringham House, at St Mary Magdalene Church. It’s believed that the Queen normally remained at Sandringham after Christmas, until the anniversary of the passing of her father – King George VI – on 6 February. The former monarch died when he was 56 years old at the royal estate when the Queen was just 25 years old, though she was on a royal tour in Kenya at the time.
Charles Anson, former press secretary to the late Queen and the royal family, previously told The Independent that the family normally goes all out for Christmas and tends to keep New Years more tame. “[There is] a long tradition of Christmas and party games – and things like charades have always been popular with the Queen – that started during the war when they were holed up at Windsor and couldn’t go out because of the air raids,” he said.
The traditions begin the week before Christmas, when the family holds an annual luncheon. The affair is for extended members of the family and it’s held at Buckingham Palace. The same luncheon was held last year by Charles and Camilla, only it was at Windsor Castle.
Similar to other families, the royals also send out Christmas cards. According to the royal family’s official website, Queen Elizabeth used to send around 750 cards total and began signing them over the summer.
Typically, families in the United States tend to spend Thanksgiving playing a game of football. As for the royal family, they mix things up with a game of soccer – or football – on Christmas Eve. According to PopSugar, Prince William and Prince Harry normally play soccer on the Sandringham Estate alongside members of the staff. Team William reportedly wore Aston Villa socks, while Team Harry wore Arsenal apparel. With Harry now living in the US, it is unclear whether this tradition will continue.
The royal family even has traditions for their decorations. Three fir trees are brought to the Marble Hall in Buckingham Palace each year. This tradition dates way back; in fact, it was popularised in the nineteenth century by Charles’ great- great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
As former royal chef Darren McGrady explained to Good Housekeeping, the royal family also has a large Christmas tree and a large, silver artificial tree in the dining room at Sandringham. In the past, great-grandchildren would help decorate. The tree has even been decorated with Corgi ornaments in years past. In honour of the family’s German heritage, they also make sure to open their presents on Christmas Eve after their afternoon tea.
Prince Harry discussed the royal family’s Christmas Eve traditions in his memoir, Spare, released in January 2023. “We were at Sandringham in a big room with a long table covered with white cloth and white name cards. By custom, at the start of the night, each of us located our place, stood before our mound of presents. Then suddenly, everyone began opening at the same time. A free-for-all, with scores of family members talking at once and pulling at bows and tearing at wrapping paper.”
As for Christmas Day, the family reportedly plays charades following lunch. Last year, King Charles and Camilla attended a service at St Mary Magdalene Church with fellow members of the royal family. They were joined by the Prince and Princess of Wales and their children – Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis.
Charles’ brother – the Duke of York – was also in attendance along with his daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and their families. The Earl and Countess of Wessex were present as well, but the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who live in California, were absent.
It’s unclear which family members will be in attendance for this year’s Christmas festivities.