There are many traditions that go along with a marriage (“something borrowed, something blue,” anyone?), but never are a couple’s shared rituals more apparent than during the holidays. Whether you always watch a special film together or you spend some quality time decorating gingerbread houses, the way you celebrate can reveal a lot about you as a twosome—or even a family. And, as we got to see in the recently released film, Spencer, no one does Christmastime traditions quite like the royal family.
The 2021 film sees Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and other ranking members of the monarchy take part in some of the clan's most time-honored holiday rituals—like getting weighed before and after Christmas dinner to ensure they’ve thoroughly enjoyed their meal (yes, really!).
If you’re wondering what other holiday traditions the British royals follow come this time of year, you’re in luck—we’ve rounded up 11 of their most tried-and-true practices. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even spark some ideas for customs of your own!
They Send Out Christmas Cards…and Lots of Them
The Queen sends out no less than 750 cards for Christmas, and she signs each and every one—a practice that reportedly takes so long, she starts in July! Most include a family photo and go to the monarch’s friends, family, and household, though prime ministers and the like may also receive them.
They Put Up No Less Than 5 Trees
It turns out, one of society's most popular Christmas traditions actually comes from the royal family. After George III's consort, Queen Charlotte, introduced the idea of the Christmas tree to the family, the BBC reports that dressing them up for the holidays became a common practice in the 1840s, when a photograph of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert celebrating with a decorated tree at Windsor Castle began making the rounds in the Illustrated London News. Prince Albert also reportedly sent pre-decorated trees to schools in Windsor and local army barracks—a tradition the Queen apparently still carries on to this day by sending Christmas trees to churches and schools throughout England.
As for the royal's own display, they keep three fir trees in the Marble Hall of Buckingham Palace during the holiday season. They also put up a large Christmas tree at Sandringham House, which the royal grandchildren doll up on Christmas Eve. According to the former royal chef, Darren McGrady, there's also a 30-year-old fake silver tree in the dining room for good measure.
They Give Out Pudding to the Staff
In addition to gift tokens that the Queen bestows upon staff members who have been in her service for at least a year, her majesty pays for roughly 1,500 puddings and a greeting card for her loyal employees—just like Queen Victoria, George V (Queen Elizabeth's grandfather), and her father, King George IV, did before her.
They Make the Trek to Sandringham
The royals have been making the trek to Sandringham, Norfolk, for the holidays for more than 30 years. The tradition began in 1988, when the family’s usual Christmas locale, Windsor Castle, was being rewired. Since then, they’ve never missed a visit, with the exception of 2020, as COVID-19 prevented travel for the Queen and the late Prince Philip.
According to royal biographer Brian Hoey, who spoke to Wales Online in 2014, the select few who are invited to make the trip must arrive at a pre-determined time, with junior family members arriving first and older, more senior family members bringing up the rear. Unwed partners are typically not allowed, though an exception was made for Meghan Markle in 2017.
They Get Weighed
As we saw in Spencer, it is customary for members of the royal family to weigh themselves on antique scales both before and after Christmas dinner—a practice that’s been in play since Edward VII’s reign between 1901 to 1910. The purpose? To ensure that the guests are being well-fed. According to the film, each attendee is expected to gain at least three pounds during the holiday trip.
They certainly have plenty of opportunity to do so. According to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the family’s holiday meals include a Christmas Eve tea with a large cake and finger sandwiches, a black-tie Christmas Eve dinner, a light Christmas Day breakfast followed by a turkey lunch at 1 p.m. sharp, a 4 p.m. tea with more cakes, scones, and sandwiches, and an evening aperitif. There’s also a hearty breakfast on Boxing Day. Sheesh!
They Give Each Other Gag Gifts
On Christmas Eve, each royal family member is tasked with leaving a gag gift in the drawing room in line with a German tradition known as "Heiligabend Bescherung." While some rise to the occasion (Kate Middleton is reported to have given her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, a “grow-your-own-girlfriend kit” back in his pre-Meghan days, while Harry presented his grandmother with a shower cap emblazoned with the words, “Ain’t life a b*tch”), others didn’t fare quite so well. In 1981, poor Princess Diana, who wasn’t in on the joke, is said to have received a toilet paper cover from Princess Anne in exchange for the nice cashmere sweater she gave her new sister-in-law.
Other hilarious presents that have reportedly changed hands over the years include the leopard bath mat Diana would later give to Duchess Fergie and a singing toy hamster Meghan Markle got the Queen.
They Attend a Private Church Service
During their time at the estate, royal guests attend a private Christmas Day service at St. Mary Magdalene Church, which was once visited by Queen Victoria. While most of the royals usually walk to the church together, the Queen, who receives her communion first, rides by car, taking one alternating member of the family with her each year.
They Address the World With Christmas Wishes
Since 1932, when King George V first addressed the empire for a mid-day Christmas broadcast, the tradition has been kept alive by the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth has addressed the public every year since her first Christmas broadcast following her father's death back in 1952. It is said that all the royals watch her speech together.
They Enjoy Christmas Crackers
Each year, the Queen reportedly wears a paper crown as she delights in Tom Smith crackers, which have jokes or riddles found within, on Christmas Day—a ritual that's popular throughout the U.K. According to a source for the Express, the crackers serve as a point of hilarity for the group: “When [the Queen] was younger, she used to make up her own to amuse the rest of the family.”
They Play Charades
Queen Elizabeth apparently cleans house when it comes to the family's annual rousing game of charades, with impressions of former presidents and ministers that are said to be spot-on—though rumors swirled that Meghan was warned to tone down her acting skills during the game so as not to beat her. Yikes!
They Leave the Christmas Lights Up ‘Til January…and Beyond
Taylor Swift has nothing on Queen Elizabeth! When the holidays have come and gone, the royal takes her time putting the Sandringham House decorations away. In fact, per Architectural Digest, she leaves them up until February 6 in honor of her father, King George IV, who died at the estate on that date in 1952.