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British RoyalsFeatures

Christmas with the Windsors: how British royals celebrate

Picture by Stephen Lock / i-Images

Each family has its own Christmas tradition and royal families are no exception. In this installment of our Christmas series on how ruling houses across Europe mark the holidays, we’re headed to Sandringham for a look at how the House of Windsor celebrates the season.

A Very Big Family Lunch

A week before Christmas, the Queen invites the extended Royal Family to Buckingham Palace for a lunch. These festivities are a way for the whole House of Windsor to get together ahead of the big day as many of the Queen’s cousins will be celebrating with their own immediate kith and kin away from Sandringham.

The Queen Takes the Train

If there’s one sight that tells you Christmas is actually, really and quite absolutely just around the corner, it’s the image of the Queen taking the train to Sandringham. In recent years, photos of Elizabeth II, usually in headscarf and very warm coat, railing it up to Norfolk have become part of the British royal Christmas season. Once she arrives at King’s Cross, the big day is imminent.

Christmas Eve at Sandringham

The Royal Family gathers at the Queen’s Norfolk Estate by Christmas Eve and no one wants to be late because this is the time the Queen hands out the presents. Gifts are exchanged after afternoon tea on Christmas Eve with all the neatly wrapped offerings set out on tables and then passed around.

Christmas Day Church

The focal point for many in the UK of the royal festive season is the Royal Family’s visit to church on Christmas Day morning. The Queen and all her house guests make the trip to St. Mary Magdalene where Mattins are held at 11 on Christmas Day. Crowds always gather to see them arrive while afterwards, some of the children who have brought flowers present them to the Queen while other members of her family do walkabouts to greet more wellwishers. The images of the Windsors on Christmas Day take a prominent place on British TV news programmes, making a family outing into a national event.

Time for Turkey

Dinner is already in the oven by the time the royals head to church and at 1pm prompt they all sit down for a traditional Christmas lunch. Turkey (a famous product of Norfolk) and all the trimmings come first with a Christmas pudding to follow for those who still have room.

The Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s annual broadcast to her country and her Commonwealth is a fixed point in calendars around the world, not just at Sandringham. Following on from the tradition begun by her grandfather, King George V, Elizabeth II speaks to the nations on Christmas Day afternoon. Her message, which is pre-recorded several days before Christmas, usually takes a theme relevant to the times in which it is made while the Queen also talks about major personal milestones for herself and her Family. And we know Jeremy Corbyn has other things on his mind right now but just so he and everyone else can be confident in viewing times, there’s no morning showing. The Queen speaks to the Commonwealth at 3pm.

A Family Christmas

Christmas Day evening is all about celebrating, just as it is for any other family. Games, TV and partying are all on the to do list as the Windsors enjoy the family time that makes every Christmas special.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.