Princess Diana Broke This Rule During Her First Christmas With the Royal Family

And the rule is nowhere near as formal as you might expect.

Princess Diana
(Image credit: Getty)

The royals are known for their holiday traditions, from lavish meals to church services. And while most of these practices are appropriately formal and regal, the family has one hilarious rule when it comes to swapping presents: the cheaper, the better.

The Royal Family meets every year on Christmas Eve (they celebrate one day early, keeping with German customs) to exchange cheeky gag gifts, as opposed to the expensive swag we might expect from the world’s most famous family. But seeing as most royals probably already have everything they could possibly want, it makes sense that they don’t take gift giving too seriously.

If you’re surprised by this tradition, you’re not the only one: Princess Diana wasn’t aware of the gag gift rule prior to her first Christmas with Prince Charles back in 1981. Instead of a nonsensical novelty item, Diana gave Princess Anne a beautiful cashmere sweater. And what did Anne give Diana in return? A toilet paper holder.

However, the following Christmas, the Princess of Wales came armed and loaded with an appropriately silly haul, presenting a leopard-print bath mat to her sister-in-law Sarah Ferguson (aka “Fergie”).

Diana certainly wasn’t the last person to marry into the Royal Family and adopt the ritual of exchanging silly gifts. When newly-engaged Meghan Markle spent her first Christmas with the family in 2017, she decided to give the Queen a singing toy hamster. The toy reportedly made Her Majesty burst out laughing before remarking, “It can keep my dogs company.”

Along with impressing her future mother-in-law, Meghan’s gift to Prince William was another big hit. According to the book Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of A Modern Royal Family, she gave William a novelty spoon that had the words “Cereal Killer” embossed across it.

Meanwhile, Kate Middleton took a slightly more thoughtful route when it came time to hand out presents during her first Christmas with the family back in 2011. She decided to give the Queen a handmade jar of chutney, using a family recipe created by her own grandmother. Speaking in a documentary to mark the Queen's 90th birthday, Kate revealed, “I was slightly worried about it, but I noticed the next day that it was on the table.”

According to The List, this particular tradition was started by the Queen, who “thought it best many years ago to take the pressure off of finding the perfect gift and make the exchange really good fun.” It’s unclear whether the gift exchange will take place as usual this year, but we’re hoping that the royals are currently wrapping up presents as funny as ones handed out in years past.

Caitlin Morton is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, with more than eight years of experience covering travel, pop culture, and fashion. Her byline has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue, Architectural Digest, AFAR, Real Simple, Thrillist, and many more publications.