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

·6-min read
Photo by: KGC-09/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 10/16/21 Queen Elizabeth II attends Champions Day at Ascot Racecourse.
The Queen hopes to be back to normal by Christmas to host the family. (Getty Images)

It's been a tough year for the Queen. After losing her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, on April 9, she was soon back on duty, taking on visits, events and investitures. 

Alongside her grief, she also had the fall-out of Harry and Meghan's now infamous Oprah interview, and Prince Andrew's severe and ongoing legal problems casting a pall over the palace.

Last month, she was admitted to hospital and, at 95, it's no wonder that doctors have now ordered her to rest. As a result, she cancelled a long-planned visit to Northern Ireland, and her opening speech at COP26, which was instead delivered by Prince Charles.

Given the circumstances, it wouldn't be surprising if Her Majesty opted for a very quiet Christmas, with the remote and a box of Bendicks Mints to herself.

Watch: Queen advised to rest for the next two weeks

But according to reports, she's planning a full-on festive celebration, despite everything. An 'insider' claimed that she is 'committed' to hosting everyone' as usual, possibly at Windsor Castle, where the Queen now spends the majority of her time, and where they celebrated 'quietly' last year during the pandemic.  

Sandringham, in Norfolk, however, has been the venue for the family get-togethers since 1988. Previously Christmas was always held at Windsor, but after Windsor was fully rewired over Christmas that year, the event moved to Sandringham.

The movie Spencer, out this week, is set over the three days of Christmas at Sandringham in 1992, and features formal dinners, a lot of black tie, and long, chilly walks on the misty estate. 

 So what are the royal Christmas traditions now, who will attend, and all being well, how will they celebrate?

The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess of Sussex and the Duke of Sussex arriving to attend the Christmas Day morning church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk.
The royals out for the Christmas church service at Sandringham. (Getty Images)

Who will be going?

Prince William and Kate usually attend with children George, Charlotte and Louis, although they have twice spent Christmas with the Middletons. It's highly unlikely that Harry, Meghan and children Archie and Lilibet will make the journey, due to the ongoing rift between Harry and William. 

They may celebrate in LA as they did last year, with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland. 

Prince Andrew has been lurking under the radar since being accused of sex crimes, but it's likely he will also be invited, along with his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and their husbands and children. 

Other likely attendees are Prince Edward and Sophie, who live close to Windsor Castle, on the Windsor Great Park estate, and Charles and Camilla, who spent last Christmas at their country home, Highgrove, due to the pandemic. 

Princess Anne and husband Tim Laurence may also make the trip.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM  - DECEMBER 19:   Queen Elizabeth II stands in front of a Christmas tree at Buckingham Palace after recording her Christmas Day television broadcast to the Commonwealth on December 15, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Rota/ Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
The Queen at Buckingham Palace at Christmas 2011. (Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

How do they spend the Christmas break?

Although Spencer suggests that proceedings are grimly formal, various royals have spoken of the family Christmases with affectionate humour. 

It's true that events run to a strict timetable. In the past, the Queen has attended a performance of carols by the Windsor Castle choir at the castle's Sovereign’s Entrance, just before Christmas. 

Read more: Here's what a royal Christmas at Windsor used to look like

She then heads to Sandringham, and stays traditionally until February 6, the anniversary of her father's death. 

The celebrations begin on Christmas Eve, with the exchange of gifts - the Royal Family buy each other 'joke' presents, which are laid out on trestle tables before an afternoon tea served at 4.15pm, then presents are exchanged by the tree. 

The giving of gifts on Christmas Eve is a tradition to honour the family's German heritage.

The Queen makes her traditional Christmas Day address to the nation and the Commonwealth. The broadcast is produced by Sir David Attenborough (not pictured) for the second year running.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Christmas past: The Queen in the '60s, with a low-key tree. (PA Images via Getty Images)

In past years, gifts have included a comb from Harry to mock William's thinning hair, and a Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish for the Queen. 

Harry once supposedly bought her a shower cap reading 'Ain't life a bitch?' which she reportedly found 'hilarious.' 

Meanwhile, before Harry met Meghan, Kate bought him a 'grow your own girlfriend' kit. 

At 8.15pm, there's a formal black tie dinner, and nobody is allowed to retire to bed before the Queen, who has traditionally headed up at midnight. 

Instead, they play games including charades, though not Monopoly, because apparently 'everyone is too competitive'.

On Christmas morning, old traditions apply, with the royal men sitting down to a fry-up at 8.30am. 

Meanwhile, the royal women have 'a light breakfast' in their rooms and get ready for church. The Queen wakes to her breakfast tray at 9am.

SANDRINGHAM, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 25: (L-R) Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a red military style coat designed by Piero de Monz, a black velvet crowned hat designed by Marina Killery and a Russian style black muff, Anne, Princess Royal, Peter Phillips and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh leave St Mary Magdalene Church after attending the Christmas Day service on December 25, 1985 in Sandringham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Christmas 1985, with Diana and Princess Anne. (Getty Images)

At 11am, it's the Christmas morning church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, where the family usually greets waiting crowds. 

The traditional Christmas dinner is served at 1pm, followed by the official sitting down to watch the Queen's speech at 3pm, though it's said she hates to watch herself (relatable) and goes for a walk around the estate with the dogs instead.

There's an afternoon tea later on, and more games around the fire before bed.

On Boxing Day, everyone except objectors has a hearty breakfast, then heads out on the annual pheasant shoot. That evening, the family heads back to their own homes, and presumably, the Queen breathes a sigh of relief. 

Watch: Christmas dinner for The Queen is literally a military operation

Read more: The Royal Family's best Christmas moments in 21 pictures

What do they eat?

It's all about good old British tradition. Festive breakfast includes eggs, bacon, mushrooms, kippers and grilled kidneys according to the Queen's former chef Darren McGrady, while the six course, formal Christmas eve dinner begins with 'strong' cocktails, and ends with liqueurs. 

It will usually feature produce from the royal estates, such as salmon and venison. 

Christmas dinner is a traditional as it gets, with roast turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts, while the royal chef enters the dining room, to carve the turkey and have a glass of celebratory whiskey. An hour later, the Christmas pudding appears, with brandy butter and brandy sauce.

A Royal Collection Trust member of staff puts the finishing touches to the Grand Service in the State Dinning Room at Windsor Castle, Berkshire.
Festive table dressing at at Windsor Castle. (Getty Images)

"Usually it was homemade sage and onion stuffing, Brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, sometimes parsnips and carrots," said Darren McGrady. "It varied year to year – mashed potatoes and roast potatoes, homemade gravy, then Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

"Later in the day there would be afternoon tea, and that always included a chocolate Yule log, a Christmas cake made by the chefs in the kitchen and a selection of chocolatey pastries.”

For those who are still peckish, there's a cold cuts buffet at 8pm.

On Boxing Day, there's another fry-up, a shoot lunch, and a roast ham later on, while fine wines, whiskey and martinis fuel the party.

This year, it may well be a scaled-down version of the full royal Christmas. The Queen needs rest - and while it sounds a lot of fun, the three days of royal Christmas don't sound very restful at all. 

Watch: A closer look at the Queen's busy October

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