History, art and culture

How the royal family celebrates Christmas

The Christmas countdown is well and truly underway with just over a week to go until the big day. We’re all getting excited and looking forward to it, each of us with our own family traditions and rituals, but what’s in store for the royal family? How do they celebrate Christmas? We’ve taken a look into their Christmas customs and festive fancies, so come the 24th-25th December, you can imagine exactly what they’re doing and why. A Christmas of German descent Because a lot of the royal ancestry and heritage is in fact from German descent, we can trace the tradition of Christmas trees in the royal household back to the Hanoverian George III and his German wife, Queen Charlotte. It was she who introduced a German-themed Christmas back in the early 1800s, which included the introduction of the yew tree (aka the first royal Christmas tree) to Windsor Castle, in homage to German custom. Later, in 1848, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the monarch made the symbol of the Christmas tree official with the portrait of the Royal family gathered around their festive fir at Windsor Castle, published in The Illustrated London News. And in keeping with this German-Teutonic tradition, the tree was even felled in Coburg, Bavaria. Christmas at Sandringham Nowadays, our royal family have moved on from the hosting celebrations at Windsor Castle and can now be found at their country manor, Sandringham, from the 24th December. As the royal family is ever expanding, there’s now around 29 members of the immediate family are invited to the intimate event. Traditionally, after the Queen and Prince Philip arrive on Christmas Eve, the more junior members of the royal family arrive first and the rest arrive in order after, with Prince Charles and Camilla as the last to reach their yuletide destination. Over the course of the Christmas Eve, there’s a formal dinner and the ceremony of exchanging gifts. In terms of what gifts there are to go by, it’s said to be the sillier the better! Heiligabend Bescherung Although the tradition of the Christmas tree has caught on to the general public, and indeed as a tradition around the world; the German tradition of opening presents on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend Bescherung) as the royals do hasn’t. As part of their Christmas schedule, they open their presents the day before Christmas and have done for the past two centuries. Before our royal German roots were sewn, in the Middle Ages the twelfth night of Christmas was a much more significant day in the season than Christmas Eve. So much so that in 1601, looking for some entertainment, Queen Elizabeth I commissioned Shakespeare to write Twelfth Night for her guest, Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano – who was also asked to choreograph it with lively music and dances to please the Queen and her court. Queen’s Christmas Broadcast The Monarch’s Christmas Broadcast is an intrinsic part of the British and Commonwealth Christmas days. King George V was the first to start this now longstanding tradition of the Christmas broadcast back in 1932 and now, it’s as much a part of Christmas day as ever with hundreds of thousands tuning in to it each year. But gone are the days of radio and it wasn’t until 1957 that it became televised when our current Queen Elizabeth II took to the screens of our nation. Tune in at 3pm to hear her majesty reflect on the past year and touch on the achievements of Britain and the Commonwealth. Royal family portrait This year Prince George was snapped looking gorgeous for his official first Christmas portrait. Following in the footsteps of his super stylish mother, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, with a love for traditional British brands, the little Prince looked ever the dapper one on the steps of his home at Kensington Palace. Dressed in the classic white shirt and navy waistcoat, you couldn’t fault his first portrait. Next year with another brother or sister to add to the mix, the royal family portrait will only get even cuter. Christmas tree at Buckingham Palace A somewhat newer tradition than the Christmas tree in the royal family household, the Christmas tree at Buckingham palace has only been in place since 1996 after a commuter on his way back to the tube wrote a letter to the queen complaining of the lack of festive cheer on display at the royal palace. Compared to Trafalgar Square where the big tree dominates the scene and there is an undeniable festive feeling with Christmas stalls and carol singers, Mr Robin Ollington wrote that Buckingham Palace was “a gloomy mass. What a contrast. Gas lamps, silent sentries, and the odd window dimly lit. Not a sign of Christmas." Much to Ollington’s surprise, the Queen’s correspondent took this observation to heart and in turn decided that a Christmas tree should be erected under the arch at the front of the palace. Ever since they’ve maintained the tradition, so cheers, Robin! If you’re spending Christmas in London be aware that top attractions in London close on the 25th December and make sure you've checked the London Weather Forecast to make sure you’re not caught without an umbrella – or maybe even snow boots!

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