How the Queen is spending her first Christmas Day without Prince Philip

The Queen will be swapping Sandringham for Windsor for the second Christmas in a row — but this is what a regular royal Christmas looks like

Laura Hampson
Saturday 25 December 2021 12:58
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This Christmas, the Queen is celebrating her first festive holiday since her husband, Prince Philip, passed away in April.

While the annual pre-Christmas lunch for extended family members was cancelled this week due to the rapid spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Queen is still expected to celebrate the holiday with some members of her family — but not at her Sandringham Estate as per tradition.

Earlier this week, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Her Majesty will spend Christmas and New Year at Windsor Castle instead of travelling to her home in Norfolk as the family usually would.

On 23 December, Clarence House confirmed that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will be with the Queen at Windsor on Christmas Day this year.

The decision is said to be a precautionary approach, after the Queen suffered a health setback in October. The royal family is expected to visit the Queen at Windsor where Covid-friendly guidelines will be followed.

This is the second year in a row the Queen has spent Christmas at Windsor Castle, as she and Prince Philip isolated there as England was put into lockdown last Christmas.

But what does a typical Christmas look like for the royal family? Here’s what the Windsor’s usually get up to over the festive period…

Driving home for Christmas

First off, the Queen heads to Sandringham a week before the actual day. Rather than take the more expensive private royal train from London, the Queen prefers to take over a carriage of a normal scheduled King’s Cross to King’s Lynn train — something she’s often been pictured doing.

The Queen arriving at King’s Lynn for Christmas in 2019

Once there, the family members who are invited to join them arrive on Christmas Eve — with each unit allocated a specific time to arrive as Her Majesty doesn’t want everyone turning up at once.

According to Tatler, arrival times reflect status within the family, with junior members arriving first and the most senior members last.

Royal biographer, Ingrid Seward admitted the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was “terrified” of her first royal Christmas. 

Festive footy and presents

According to royal Christmas traditions, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry (before he moved to the US) would often play a very competitive game of Christmas Eve football against the staff at Sandringham. Mostly they play on opposing teams, but now and again they play on the same side.

After kicking up a sweat the royals adhere to a German Christmas tradition introduced by Prince Albert, by exchanging their presents on Christmas Eve.

The official Royal website states: “On Christmas Eve, the royal family lay out their presents on trestle tables and will exchange their gifts at teatime.”

All members of The Royal Household also receive Christmas presents from the Queen, with Her Majesty personally handing out gifts to some members of The Royal Household at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle.  

Queen Elizabeth II after recording her annual Christmas Day message at Windsor Castle in December 2019

Christmas Eve feast

The entire family sit down for a formal Christmas Eve dinner, where all guests are expected to wear black-tie or evening gowns. 

According to the Channel 5 documentary, it's a six-course, candle-lit meal, with the menu often written in French.

For dessert, former royal chef Darren McGrady said the family would tuck into a traditional Yule Log coated in a chocolate ganache as the Queen “loves chocolate.”

Christmas morning

Like most of us, the Queen is up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day, but not to rip open her presents.

Every year Her Majesty is driven to St Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham — a country church visited by the Queen's great great grandmother, Queen Victoria — to receive Communion privately.

At 11am sharp, the rest of the team join her and a lot of thought goes into Her Majesty’s Christmas outfit.

According to Angela Kelly, the Queen’s official dresser who published a book on the subject in 2019, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, The Dresser and the Wardrobe, there are multiple outfit changes that occur on Christmas Day — and the preparations begin months in advance.

In the book, Kelly reveals: “The Queen is just as busy as she would be in London, with more guests to entertain.

"There may be several outfit changes in one day – it could be as many as five or even up to seven, although that is rare – depending on the number of engagements, as well as the weather and temperature, which can change so quickly around Sandringham."

Christmas lunch fit for a Queen

Christmas Day wouldn’t be the same without a big lunch, and the royals are no different.

Their turkey dinner inevitably consists of shrimp or lobster salad starter, followed by, of course, roasted turkey and all the trimmings.

For pudding it’s a traditional Christmas pudding with brandy butter and — continuing the tradition from her father, King George VI and her grandfather, George V – The Queen also gives Christmas puddings to her staff. 

According to the official royal website, about 1,500 Christmas puddings paid for by the Queen (through the Privy Purse) are distributed to staff throughout the Palaces, including the Court Post Office and the Palace police. Each pudding is accompanied by a greeting card from the Queen, which is hand-signed.

The Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Christmas Message, which is broadcast to the 52 states in the Commonwealth, has been a running tradition for 88 years.

Back when it originated in 1932, it was called the King’s Christmas Message after King George V, who was the first monarch to broadcast this speech on the radio.

The Queen during the recording of her Christmas message in December 1971

The speech is now pre-recorded a few weeks before Christmas and televised every year at 3pm on the BBC, ITV, Sky 1 and Sky News.

Even the royal family will sit down to watch Her Majesty’s message on the television, followed by charades and party games.

The big Boxing Day shoot

It’s a divisive event that’s a long-standing tradition for the royal family.

On Boxing Day each year, the royals gather for the annual Boxing Day pheasant shoot at the Norfolk estate.

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