The Queen's Christmases through the decades - and why they've changed dramatically

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Watch: Doctors have approved of Queen Elizabeth's annual Christmas party

The royals' Christmas will look rather different this year, with Prince Philip gone, The Queen forced by doctors to rest more, and Harry and Meghan still far away in LA.

But as tradition dictates, the royals will still head for Sandringham House in Norfolk, the home of royal Christmases for the past few decades, to be with the Queen.

A palace source was quoted as saying,"The Queen has told everyone she is feeling far better of late and is very much looking forward to welcoming (the family) for Christmas."

Read more: The Queen 'will host family Christmas', but how will it look this year?

Likely attendees this year will be Princess Anne and her husband Commander Tim Lawrence, Edward and Sophie Wessex, Charles and Camilla, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with their three children.

Prince Andrew is still welcome at family events despite his current troubles, and daughters Eugenie and Beatrice with husbands Jack Brooksbank and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and their new babies will almost certainly visit during the festive period.

A member of the Royal Collection Trust staff puts the finishing touches to a Christmas tree in St George's Hall, which is part of the Royal Collection's The Princesses' Pantomimes costume display and Christmas decorations at Windsor Castle. Picture date: Thursday November 25, 2021. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
The royal tree, at Windsor Castle. It's big. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)

Generally, the Royal Christmas features an afternoon exchange of 'silly' presents and a black tie dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by church on Christmas Day at St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, a buffet and games.

This year may be quieter, as the Queen is now widowed. She generally heads to Sandringham by train the week before Christmas, and has often been photographed arriving at King's Lynn railway station. She remains at Sandringham until February, when she will return to Windsor, now her primary home.

But while some royal traditions remain constant, over the years, the guests, family members and surrounding events have changed. Here's a look back at Royal Christmases past.

1950s

The young Queen

25th December 1952:  Queen Elizabeth II making her first ever Christmas broadcast to the nation from Sandringham House, Norfolk.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
25th December 1952: Queen Elizabeth II making her first ever Christmas broadcast to the nation from Sandringham House, Norfolk. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Newly coronated Elizabeth broadcast her first radio Christmas message to the Commonwealth from her study at Sandringham House on the 25 December 1952, just 11 months after her father's death. The Christmas speech wasn't broadcast on TV until 1957.

Royal Christmas in the 1950s was held at Windsor Castle, and guests would include the widowed Queen Mother, and of course, Prince Charles and Princess Anne would bring the excitement as small children.

The Queen Elizabeth II, wearing a strapless evening gown, makes her Christmas broadcoast to the peoples of the British Commonwealth, 31 December 1953 from Government House, Auckland. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth makes her Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth, December 1953 from Government House, Auckland. (Getty Images)

In her first Christmas message, The Queen talked about maintaining the tradition of Christmas broadcasts passed on to her by George V and George VI and said she would "strive to carry on their work to unite the peoples of the Empire and maintain their ideals".

She also thanked her people for their "loyalty and affection" in the first months of her reign. She talked of the Commonwealth as an "immense union of nations" that "can be a great power for good – a force which I believe can be of immeasurable benefit to all humanity."

The young family always attended church on Christmas morning, and would have a Nordman Fir Christmas tree, cut down from Windsor Great Park.

1960s

A happy Christmas

June 1969: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip look at their decorated Christmas tree during the filming of a television special about life in the British royal family.    (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
969: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip look at their decorated Christmas tree during the filming of a television special about life in the British royal family. (Getty Images)

In the 1960s, Princes Andrew and Edward joined the family Christmas, which was still held at Windsor Castle. In 1969, the Queen didn't give a televised speech as she apparently felt that after combination of Prince Charles' televised investiture as Prince of Wales, and the release of an unprecedented documentary about the royal family, the public 'may have had enough.'

During the 60s the royals were joined for Christmas by Princess Margaret and her husband Anthony Armstrong-Jones; Their children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, as well as the Queen Mother, Charles, Andrew, Edward and Princess Anne.

Read more: Queen's childhood Christmas pantomime costumes on display

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles walk through Liverpool Street Station in London with their dogs, having returned by train from Sandringham after the Christmas holidays, 18th January 1960. The Queen is expecting the birth of her son Prince Andrew in one month's time. (Photo by Derek Berwin/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
January 1960, The Queen, Prince Charles and their dogs return from Sandringham after Christmas. (Photo by Derek Berwin/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

1970s

Growing up

Queen Elizabeth II, with two of her sons Prince Andrew (L) and prince Edward, read a book at Buckingham Palace during the recording of Queen's Christmas message to the Commonwealth which was shown on TV on Christmas day, december 1971. (Photo by - / CENTRAL PRESS PHOTOS / AFP) (Photo by -/CENTRAL PRESS PHOTOS/AFP via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II, with Prince Andrew (L) and Prince Edward, read a book at Buckingham Palace during the recording of her Christmas message (Getty Images)
The Royal Family at Christmas and New Year. Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne, out riding their horses in the snow, during their New Year holiday at Sandringham, Norfolk. Picture taken 2nd January 1979. (Photo by Pete Case/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
The Queen and Princess Anne, out riding their horses in the snow at Sandringham, 1979. (Getty Images)

In 1975, the Queen broadcast her speech from outside Buckingham Palace, after a difficult year of strikes and power cuts. In 1978, her first grandchild, Peter Philips was born and came with Princess Anne and her then-husband Captain Mark Philips to Windsor for Christmas.

In those days, unmarried partners were not invited to spend the festive season at the castle, and the celebrations were very much family-only. By now, Princess Margaret was divorced, so attended alone.

1980s

Diana arrives

SANDRINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 29:  Members Of The Royal Family Returning Home In The Snow From A Church Service. (l To R) Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne And Zara Phillips.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Diana attends church at Sandringham at Christmas in the 80s. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

In 1981, Prince Charles married Diana, who then joined the royals at Windsor for Christmas. Her misery by the end of the '80s is well documented, but soon after their marriage, she was revelling in huge popularity and the number of fans waiting to see the royals attend church on Christmas day boomed.

When Prince William was born in 1982 and Harry in 1984, they joined the royals for Christmas too, along with Zara, Princess Anne's daughter born in 1981, Prince Andrew's new wife Sarah Ferguson and their small daughter Princess Beatrice, born in 1988.

Diana, Princess of Wales  (1961 - 1997) leaving St George's Chapel in Windsor with Lady Rose Windsor, Lord Frederick Windsor, Peter and Zara Phillips and Prince William on Christmas Day, 25th December 1987.   (Photo by Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
Diana, with royal children and Prince William, 25th December 1987.(Getty Images)

Royal Christmases were suddenly filled with small children, and a much livelier atmosphere.

In 1988, Christmas returned to Sandringham while Windsor castle was rewired, and has remained there ever since.

1990s

A difficult decade

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II records her Christmas Day message to the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace.  This picture was taken while she was recording the version of the message which is heard on the radio.   (Photo by Fiona Hanson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen records her radio broadcast at Buckingham Palace in the 1990s. (Getty Images)

Trouble came in the 1990s for Prince Charles and Diana. As documented in the film Spencer, Diana's gloomy Christmas at Sandringham in 1992 was the beginning of the end of their marriage. Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles came to light, and fire engulfed Windsor Castle, destroying priceless sections of the building.

The Queen's Christmas speech that year referred to her 'annus horribilis' and talked of the importance of personal fortitude.

Watch: Kristen Stewart is breathtaking as Diana in 'Spencer'

Princess Eugenie was born in 1990, and joined royal Christmases - though by 1992, Andrew and Fergie had separated, and like Charles and Diana, they divorced in 1996, ending Fergie's royal Christmases.

Shockingly, 1997 saw the sudden death of Princess Diana in a car crash. That Christmas, The Queen said, "We all felt the shock and sorrow of Diana's death.

"Thousands upon thousands of you expressed your grief most poignantly in the wonderful flowers and messages left in tribute to her. That was a great comfort to all those close to her, while people all around the world joined us here in Britain for that service in Westminster Abbey."

The family ended the decade in very different shape, joined by Sophie Wessex, whom Edward married in 1999.

The Queen Mother is presented with a bouquet after attending a Christmas morning service at Sandringham Church. With the Queen Mother are (l-r) Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince William, Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret. (Photo by Martin Keene/PA Images via Getty Images)
Christmas day after church, with Princess Margaret, Diana, The Queen Mother, William and Harry. (Photo by Martin Keene/PA Images via Getty Images)

'00s

Changing times

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II helps Santa Claus to hand out gifts to child racegoers at Ascot.   (Photo by Fiona Hanson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen helps Santa Claus to hand out gifts in the early '00s. (Getty Images)

In 2002, the Queen lost both her mother, who died aged 101 and her sister, Princess Margaret.

Christmas was irrevocably changed, and in her Christmas broadcast, the Monarch spoke about "personal loss" and the comfort she had found in her faith and the tributes of others.

The decade also saw the Queen's golden jubilee, and Charles' marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, who joined the family at Christmas from then on.

The Wessexes had two children - Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn, who became a part of the family Christmas.

2010s

A new generation

Britain's Prince Charles (2ndL) and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (R), Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (back,R) and Prince William (back, L) arrive to attend the Royal family Christmas Day church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, eastern England, on December 25, 2011. Britain's Prince Philip missed the royal family's Christmas Day celebrations for the first time as the husband of Queen Elizabeth II remained in hospital after having heart surgery.    AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP) (Photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Charles and Camilla attend church with William and Kate at Sandringham. (Getty Images)

Royal life had a significant boost in 2011 when Prince William married his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey, and Prince George was born in summer 2013, followed by Princess Charlotte in 2015. Their little brother, Louis, followed in 2018, the year Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, who gave birth to Archie in 2019.

Christmas 2018 was held at Sandringham with the Cambridges and the Sussexes in attendance- the last year that would be the case, as Harry and Meghan had already left for Canada by the following Christmas.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 12: Queen Elizabeth II records her Christmas message to the Commonwealth, in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace on December 12, 2013 in London England. Broadcast on December 25, 2013, the Queen wears a diamond, ruby and sapphire brooch given to her by her parents to celebrate the birth of Prince Charles in 1948. By her side are photographs of her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth - The Queen Mother, and also a picture from this years christening of Prince George of Cambridge. (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II records her Christmas message in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace on December 12, 2013. By her side are photographs of her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth - The Queen Mother, and also a picture from this years christening of Prince George of Cambridge. (Getty Images)
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (2nd L) holds Britain's Prince Louis of Cambridge (L) as she speaks with Britain's Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (2nd R) and Britain's Prince George of Cambridge (R) at a special pantomime performance of The National Lotterys Pantoland  at London's Palladium Theatre in London on December 11, 2020, to thank key workers and their families for their efforts throughout the pandemic. (Photo by Aaron Chown / POOL / AFP) (Photo by AARON CHOWN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The Duchess of Cambridge with Louise, Charlotte and George at the Christmas panto last year. (Getty Images)

Now, royal Christmases have changed once again - last year, the Queen and Prince Philip stayed at Sandringham due to the pandemic, though current plans are that she will leave for Sandringham next week.

There will be some very significant absences this year - but the sadness will be eased by the new babies, joining the family for their very first royal Christmas.

Watch: Christmas special: Babies born in 2021, Royal Family edition

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