Whether sitting down to patiently work on a giant jigsaw puzzle together, unwrapping those famous gag gifts, or spending quiet moments in prayer, the late monarch was always at the heart of special moments taking place during the three days of Christmas celebrations at Sandringham.
But after the death of the late Queen in September, the Royal Family’s return to the estate’s “big house”—their first since 2019 due to the —will no doubt feel very different this year as family members begin to pour in on Christmas Eve.
“There’s still a great sense of sadness about the loss of Her Majesty… Coming together in a place where she was usually at the centre of all the warmth and laughter will no doubt feel surreal,” a longtime former palace aide tells me. “Those first moments realising [she’s] not there will be heavy.”
Now the patriarch of the family, it will be King Charles’ first time hosting Christmas—and a chance to see just how he plans to lead family gatherings in the future. I would imagine that, just like the first three months of his reign, the focus this holiday season will be on continuity and remembering the life QEII.
In other words, expect traditions of the past to be the traditions of today. Starting with formal dinner and gift-giving on Christmas Eve, the St. Mary Magdalene Church service and big lunch on Christmas Day, and outdoor pursuits on Boxing Day (think shooting, riding and hiking).
And Charles—who will work every day apart from December 25—can expect full support from family members, working and non-working, with this Christmas at Sandringham expected to be one of the biggest in years. William and Kate, the newly minted Prince and Princess of Wales, are confirmed attendees with children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis (who, confirms a source, will all be joining their parents at church on Christmas Day).
This will also be the first year Camilla won’t be leaving early to join her own family on December 26. Instead, I hear, her children Lauren Lopes and Tom Parker Bowles, will travel up to Norfolk with their families to join the Queen Consort and the rest of the royals.
Another surprising addition will be Prince Andrew’s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson joining the group. The Duchess of York will be there alongside daughters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice and their husbands and children.
“The focus is really on family,” says a royal source. “This is what Christmas is all about.”
For Mike Tindall, who will be joining with wife Zara and children Lena, Lucas and Mia, he says the family are “looking forward” to coming together. “Obviously, there’s a lot of change, there’s a lot of firsts,” he told his co-stars on The Good, The Bad and the Rugby podcast. One thing they’ll all be doing, he added, is watching the King’s Speech.
Pre-recorded ahead of its 3pm Christmas Day release, Charles is expected to honour his mother’s memory as well as reflect on global, national and personal events which have affected himself and those watching.
And this year will also see another royal Christmas message broadcasted, with Kate sharing a special introduction to her annual Christmas carol concert at Westminster Abbey. Aired during the Royal Family’s first night together in Sandringham, the princess will be heard telling viewers, “This Christmas will be our first without Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Her Majesty held Christmas close to her heart, as a time that brought people together and reminded us of the importance of faith, friendship and family, and to show empathy and compassion.
“This year’s carol service is dedicated to her and to all those who are sadly no longer with us,” she will add. “So, whilst Christmas will feel very different this year, we can still remember the memories and traditions we shared. Take time to slow down and celebrate with family and friends all the wonderful things that make Christmas so special.”