How does the Royal Family spend Christmas?

Everyone has family traditions at Christmas time and the British royal family is no different. It may even be those very customs that help them get through a difficult Christmas this year, their first without Queen Elizabeth II.

The King has already said he is going to uphold tradition by spending Christmas at Sandringham House, the royal winter residence in Norfolk. The stately home, about two-and-a-half hours north of London, is where he and Queen Consort Camilla will spend the festive season and welcome in the New Year.

King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort
King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort, will uphold tradition and spend Christmas at Sandringham. Photo: Getty Images

When we see photos of the royals on Christmas day, it's usually as they attend St Mary Magdalene Church for the morning service, which is just outside the grounds of Sandringham country estate. There are other traditions as well though.

Games and jokes

On Christmas Eve, the family exchanges their presents, which they lay out on trestle tables and swap after afternoon tea. According to royal correspondent Phil Dampier, "The adults exchange cheap joke gifts, with Harry once giving the Queen a shower cap with 'Ain’t life a bitch' on it."

The King's Speech

Sandringham is where Charles will do his very first King's Speech. King George V celebrated the launch of radio by broadcasting live from the Long Library at Sandringham in 1926. The Queen kept up the tradition for radio and then television, but towards the end of her life, she pre-recorded it to enjoy the day itself. It is thought King Charles will also pre-record his address as his mother did.

Traditional Christmas dinner
The Royal Family enjoys a traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Photo: Getty Images

Christmas lunch

In the past, the royals have started the day with a hearty breakfast before settling in after church for a long lunch. Like many families, the Christmas meal is the same every year. "[They have] a salad with shrimp or lobster, and a roasted turkey, and all of your traditional side dishes like parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts and Christmas pudding with brandy butter for dessert," former royal chef Darren McGrady revealed to Good Housekeeping.

"Afterward, they all go their own way before coming together again for afternoon tea and traditional Christmas fruitcake, then they gather again in the evening, where a buffet dinner with 15-20 different items awaits them. It's always a buffet with the chefs at the table carving."

One unusual tradition of the Christmas evening buffet in recent years has been that the Queen serves her head chef a drink. "Right before the Christmas buffet, the senior chef on duty goes into the dining room and carves the rib roast or turkey or ham and once he's done, Her Majesty presents the chef with a glass of whiskey and they toast," McGrady revealed. "That's the only time the chef goes into the dining room and has a glass of whiskey with the royal family. It's one of the chef's favourite traditions." Hopefully for the chef it's a tradition King Charles will uphold.

Following the buffet dinner, the royals play parlour games, with charades a particular favourite.

The Duke of Cambridge, Prince George, The Queen and Prince of Wales in 2019
The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and Prince George joined forces to prepare special Royal British Legion Christmas puddings at Buckingham Palace in 2019. Photo: Instagram/@theroyalfamily


Queen Elizabeth II used to gift Christmas puddings to her staff, a tradition handed down from her father, King George VI and her grandfather, George V. About 1500 Christmas puddings paid for by The Queen (through the Privy Purse) were distributed to staff throughout the Palaces, staff in the Court Post Office and Palace police. This is another tradition that Charles will probably wish to uphold while no doubt putting his own mark on it.

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