There’s no place like home for the holidays, and for Queen Elizabeth, “home” is her beloved Sandringham. At just eight months old, she spent her first Christmas on the Royal Family’s sprawling Norfolk property. It fast became one of her favourite retreats, and not long after she became Queen she made it the centre of her family’s yuletide celebrations rather than Windsor Castle.
While Christmas at Sandringham is always a spirited occasion, 2015 is shaping up to be one of the best, thanks to the arrival of Prince George’s little sister, Princess Charlotte. The darling duo will no doubt be spoiled by a host of doting great-grandparents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Last year, that also included the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton along with her siblings, Pippa and James, for part of the festivities. When they aren't toasting the holidays at Sandringham's main house, the Cambridges will retreat to their country home, Anmer Hall, which is located three-kilometres away on the estate.
The party begins on Dec. 24 when the Queen’s guests arrive in order of precedence, leaving the most senior royals until the end. Before sitting down to a sumptuous black-tie dinner, the Royal Family opens presents in the Drawing Room.
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The Queen, as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, views Christmas Day as a religious festival, but exchanging gifts on Dec. 24 is also a tradition that goes back to the holidays of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, who kept to the custom of his native Germany.
You’ll find no extravagant gifts under the Windsor tree: cheap and cheerful, and often cheeky, is the tradition. (Legendary gifts include a casserole dish for the Queen – “It’s just what I wanted,” she reportedly said – and a white leather toilet seat for Prince Charles.) Kate has got into the swing of things and has been said to especially enjoy getting silly gifts for her fun-loving brother-in-law, Prince Harry.
A sense of humour, it seems, is a holiday prerequisite, especially when plans go awry. “Christmas usually goes smoothly, yet there have been several unfortunate mishaps over the years,” says a royal insider. “One year, a footman pulled the Queen’s chair away from the dinner table a fraction too soon and she went crashing to the floor, her fall broken only by the pups nestled at her feet. And in 2008, a staff member fell into the six-metre Christmas tree, and down it went. But, ever the diplomat, the Queen took both incidents in stride.”
After a night of revelry – the family can only go to bed once the Queen retires – Christmas Day is reserved for a more formal celebration. In the morning, the Royal Family attends services at St. Mary Magdalene church. Later, after a delicious lunch, they settle in to watch Queen Elizabeth’s pre-recorded Christmas broadcast before heading off for a walk on the 20,000-acre estate. Now that’s a merry Christmas!