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How King Charles and Queen Camilla are spending their Christmas at Sandringham

From observing the German tradition of gifting presents on Christmas Eve to taking a festive walk on the Sandringham grounds, here is what Charles and Camilla will be doing this Christmas

Ellie Muir
Sunday 24 December 2023 12:27 GMT
Kate Middleton curtsies to King Charles and Queen Camilla at Christmas Concert

Most families have their own beloved Christmas traditions. Perhaps it’s playing a never-ending game of Monopoly, wearing your pyjamas all day or falling asleep to the murmur of the EastEnders Christmas Special. Whatever your tradition – the royal family has some of its own grander traditions, too.

Royal Christmases are alive with tradition and routine: a morning church visit, a roast turkey banquet, walking the Sandringham grounds, and opening presents with a little nod to their German roots.

Queen Elizabeth II famously hosted every Christmas at the family’s country estate in Norfolk since 1998 – and her son King Charles will likely continue the tradition in his first official year as King following his coronation in May.

Since the monarch is the head of the Church of England, the royal family always attends a morning church service at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, the chapel on the Sandringham grounds, where royal fans flock to watch the family members arrive at the service.

The image of that walk became iconic when the “Fab Four” – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – were photographed walking to the festive service together as a united front in 2017.

But since Prince Harry formally stepped back from his royal duties in 2020 and relocated to California, and then released his controversial memoir Spare in January, it is not expected that the Sussexes will attend the family’s celebrations this year.

Charles arrives at Sandringham on Christmas Eve 2023 (PA)
The king arrives to attend a Sunday church service at St Mary Magdalene Church (PA)
The family will spend Christmas at Sandringham (PA)

The Prince and Princess of Wales and their children, Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, eight, and Prince Louis, five, will all likely be visiting Sandringham over the festive period, along with Anne, Princess Royal and her family, as well as the Earl and Countess of Wessex and their children.

In previous years, Camilla would leave the royal family’s Christmas gathering in the afternoon to spend time with her son Tom Parker Bowles, daughter Laura Lopes and five grandchildren during the festive season. Now that she is Queen and will help host the celebrations with Charles, however, that could change this year.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the Christmas Day morning church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, photographed in 2017 (PA)

There could also be an appearance from Prince Andrew, though his attendance has not yet been confirmed. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, whom he still lives with at Royal Lodge and has previously spent Christmases with the royals, once described their Christmas celebrations as “exhausting” – explaining how she had to change outfits seven times in 24 hours for official festive appearances.

As for the present giving, the royals are known to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day, continuing a German custom that Queen Victoria’s Bavarian-born husband, Prince Albert, introduced in the mid-19th century. It is also thought that the family swap smaller, comic presents with each other instead of expensive gifts.

Traditionally, the royal family exchange gifts at teatime on Christmas Eve, and wake up to stockings filled with fruit and smaller gifts on Christmas Day.

The royal family arriving at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham last Christmas (PA)
Queen Elizabeth II seen in the Long Library at Sandringham shortly after making the traditional Christmas Day the nation in 1957 (PA)

In the afternoon on Christmas Day, the royal family may sit down to watch Charles deliver his Christmas message. The monarch traditionally records the 10-minute message in advance of it being broadcast on BBC One and it reflects issues of the year before culminating with a festive farewell.

Last year, Charles spoke following the death of his mother, filmed at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the Queen and his father, Prince Philip, are buried.

Prince George, the Princess of Wales, Prince Louis, the Prince of Wales, Princess Charlotte, King Charles and Queen Camilla on the balcony of Buckingham Palace (PA Wire)
Charles and Camilla at the coronation in May (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

He said: “Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones. We feel their absence at every familiar turn of the season and remember them in each cherished tradition.”

This year has been another eventful year for Charles, who has celebrated his 75th birthday and was also crowned in a ceremony back in May. This year, he may record his festive address at Buckingham Palace, like his mother did, or choose a new location to begin a new tradition.

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