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  • Rachel Burchfield

Christmas traditions at Sandringham


CREDIT: GETTY Sandringham House

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!


It’s the holiday season, and while I want to be inclusive, this post is strictly about Christmas. I celebrate it, the Royal Family celebrates it, and you’ll likely want to celebrate it too after you read about how festive our favorite Family gets!


If you know one thing about the Queen, you know she is a woman of tradition. These Christmas traditions have been celebrated for most (if not all) of the Queen’s 93 years of life and will likely carry on long after she’s gone.


Wonder what the Royals are doing during the Christmas season? Here you go:

· The Family doesn’t spend Christmas at Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen; they instead all trek out to Sandringham House in Norfolk. Starting in the 1960s, Christmas was typically spent at Windsor Castle (where the Family spends Easter) but, since 1988, when Windsor was being rewired, they’ve been heading out to Sandringham. Sandringham is a country retreat that has been owned by the Family since 1862 and is 100 miles north of London.

· Not everyone gets to come to Sandringham, so the Queen hosts a lunch at Buckingham Palace about a week before Christmas for those who won’t be there for the actual day.

· As with everything in this Family, order is important. The Family arrives in a specific order at specific times on Christmas Eve, with the more junior Royals arriving first and the final guests to arrive being Charles and Camilla.

· The Queen, for her part, arrives a little earlier than Christmas Eve and, per tradition, always arrives by train, arriving at King’s Lynn Station in Norfolk.

· Once everyone arrives at Sandringham on Christmas Eve, the younger members of the Family put the finishing touches on the Christmas trees together. They then open presents on Christmas Eve, per German tradition. Gifts are exchanged at teatime and afterwards, they have a black-tie dinner.

· William and Harry typically square off in a soccer match (that’s football to them) on Christmas Eve afternoon. However, that won’t be happening this year, as Harry and Meghan won’t be at Sandringham (and William and Harry aren’t in a great place). Members of the staff make up the teams, and William’s team wears Aston Villa socks (his favorite team) while Harry’s team wears Arsenal socks.

· The Family is notorious for giving each other gag gifts for Christmas. After all, what exactly do you get the Queen who has everything? Keeping with the fun, the Family also plays a raucous game of charades on Christmas Eve.

· On Christmas morning, the male members of the Royal Family eat a big breakfast downstairs together – think eggs and bacon – while the women are typically served a breakfast of fruit, toast, and coffee in their rooms. *Restraining myself from commenting on this*

· Then it’s off to church at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, where many onlookers often show up to see the Family walk in.

· After church, at 1 p.m. on Christmas Day, the Family sits down for a Christmas lunch. They eat a traditional meal of turkey, mashed and roast potatoes, stuffing, brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce. At 2 p.m., the traditional Christmas pudding is brought in and served with brandy butter and brandy sauce. The Royals eat this meal year after year and the Christmas Day menu is written in French.

· After lunch, the entire Family sits down to watch the Queen’s Christmas Day speech, broadcast across the nation at 3 p.m. The speech is typically pre-recorded at Buckingham Palace before the Queen heads out to Sandringham; it’s not live, so she gets to watch with her Family.

· The Royal Christmas broadcast is a tradition dating back to 1932, when the Queen was only six and King George V delivered the first address. The Queen was the first (and, of course, only) monarch to deliver a televised broadcast – the televised speeches began in 1957.

· For Christmas dinner, there is a buffet served, and there is an annual tradition where the Queen gives a glass of whiskey to the senior chef, which he or she enjoys with the entire Family.

· Then, on Christmas night, the Family hosts a film night in the ballroom at Sandringham. Wonder what movie they’ll watch this year?

· On Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas in the U.K., the Family heads out on a pheasant shoot. Most Royals stay at Sandringham through the New Year, but the Queen and Prince Philip stay all the way until February 6 each year to honor the Queen’s father, King George VI, who died on that day at Sandringham in 1952. The Christmas decorations stay up the entire time they are there.

· Every year, the Queen and Philip send around 750 Christmas cards, typically featuring a Family photo. Who gets a card? Family, friends, and members of the Royal Household, and sometimes British politicians.

· The Queen gives a Christmas pudding to her staff – about 1,500 in total – continuing a tradition started by her father and her grandfather, King George V. Along with every pudding is a card. Staff also gets a choice between a gift token or a book token for their Christmas gift, and the value of their voucher increases with each year they’ve served the Royal Family.

· The Queen also donates money to several charities for Christmas and gives Christmas trees to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Giles’ Cathedral, and the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. The Queen also gives trees to churches and schools in Sandringham.

· Speaking of Christmas trees, there are three trees in Buckingham Palace – all fir trees, and a tradition started by Queen Victoria. They reside in the Marble Hall.

· At Sandringham, the Family has a large Christmas tree and a large silver artificial tree in the dining room.


This year at Sandringham, of course, will be interesting, what with so much drama happening as 2019 closes. Regardless, may we all envelope ourselves in the Christmas spirit and remind ourselves always the reason for the season.

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