The holidays are upon us and that means lots of time with family and indulging in nostalgic holiday traditions. The royals are just like any other family in this way—they have their own set of traditions, many of which get carried out behind closed (palace, castle, and estate) doors.
Here are 20 royal family holiday traditions that you probably didn't know about—including a few that might surprise you.
Every year, the Queen throws her annual holiday party, which is typically attended by as many as 50 members of the extended royal family, including the the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, and Zara and Mike Tindall. Both Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton attended this party before their respective royal weddings, and it was a good chance for them to get to know the family before they said "I do."
The royals never miss a year of Christmas cards and their lists are extensive. Every year, the Queen and Prince Philip send about 750 hand-signed holiday cards. Philip sends another 200 on his own to various regiments and organizations that are close to him. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles also send an annual card, as do Prince William and Kate Middleton and, now, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
The royals congregate at Sandringham House in Norfolk in the country for their Christmas celebration. The royal family has owned the estate since 1862 and it's long been their go-to Christmas destination. The Queen gifted Will and Kate a place of their own on the estate, Anmer Hall. After their wedding this year, Harry and Meghan were also given their own place in Sandringham—York Cottage.
Queen Elizabeth travels to her Sandringham Estate ahead of Christmas on a pre-scheduled public train to King's Lynn, but the royal rents out an entire carriage on the train for herself, Prince Philip and their immediate staff. The Queen travels out to Sandringham about a week before Christmas to get ready to host the family's annual celebration.
Not only is there tradition dictating what day the rest of the royals should arrive at Sandringham, but there's tradition to the order in which they show up too. Apparently, everyone who's invited to the super exclusive festivities is given a specific arrival slot, dictated by their status within the family. The earlier you arrive, the less important you are. The most junior members show up first and senior members, likePrince Charles, Will, Kate, Harry and Meghan would be among the last to arrive.
Every Christmas at Sandringham, Prince Harry and Prince William play in a soccer game with staff at the estate. According to PopSugar, both princes "wear the socks of their favorite teams (Aston Villa for William and Arsenal for Harry)."
According to McGrady, "the Royal Family has a large Christmas tree and a large silver artificial tree in the dining room, which is about 30 years old."
When the royal family assembles at Sandringham House on Christmas Eve afternoon, the younger members of the fam work together to finish decorating the trees—but not in a gaudy way. "The Queen is not lavish, so the décor is minimal," McGrady told Good Housekeeping.
The Queen famously used to do her Christmas shopping at Harrods in London. The iconic store would reportedly stay open after hours just for Her Majesty, so she could shop in peace.
Even though the royals already open their Christmas gifts a little earlier than many families, Prince George can't even wait that long. In a 2016 interview, Prince William revealed that George has a habit of sneaking his presents away from the tree to open them early—something that both Will and his late mother, Princess Diana, did as well.
Instead of exchanging pricey gifts, the members of the royal family give each other gag gifts instead. One year, Kate reportedly gave Harry a "Grow Your Own Girlfriend" kit.
And this isn't just a tradition among the younger generation of royals. According to The Sun, "Prince Charles’s favorite-ever gift is reportedly a white leather toilet seat from Princess Anne, which he found so comfy that it now travels with him on his overseas tours."
According to the royal family's official website, "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. Continuing the tradition from her father, King George VI and her grandfather, George V—The Queen also gives Christmas puddings to her staff. About 1500 Christmas puddings paid for by The Queen (through the Privy Purse) are distributed to staff throughout the Palaces, staff in the Court Post Office and Palace police. Each pudding is accompanied by a greeting card from The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh."
According to the Queen's former personal chef, Darren McGrady, the entire royal family is required to gather at 3pm on Christmas Day to watch the Queen's annual Christmas address together.
The royal family always attends a Christmas morning service at St Mary Magdalene Church. The service is typically 45 minutes.
According to McGrady, alcohol is flowing throughout the family's two-day tradition fest. After church on Christmas day, he told The Daily Mail, "the Queen has a gin and Dubonnet, while Prince Philip has beer. Everyone else will sip a glass of Veuve Clicquot." At Christmas dinner, he says, "the Queen enjoys drinking Gewurztraminer, an aromatic white wine."
Kids are relegated to the nursery for the big Christmas feast—at least until they're old enough to "conduct themselves in the proper manner at the table," according to McGrady.
The dining room at Sandringham has limited seating. According to PopSugar, "Christmas lunch is 24 adults, and children are seated in the nursery." It's a pretty formal occasion, according to the Telegraph, "with the men wearing black tie suits and the woman wearing gowns, expensive jewelery, and tiaras."
The highlight of the menu is roast turkey, traditionally from local butcher Scoles in Dersingham, and the royal family's Christmas pudding, which is prepared a year in advance to give it time to mature, apparently.
"All the Royals are remarkably disciplined with food. Most simply graze," McGrady says.
According to McGrady, the men are eager to get out of the house the day after Christmas and get up early to go shooting. The women in the royal family, on the other hand, typically stay behind, but join the guys at a cottage on the estate for a hot lunch of beef bourguignon, or venison stew, with mashed potatoes, braised red cabbage and apple pie.