Friday, December 29, 2017

The Royal Days Of Christmas

If you have ever wondered how the Royal Family do Christmas, then wonder no more.

Queenie puts out a three line whip* for attendance at Sandringham  for all three days of Christmas.  That’s the country estate in  Norfolk, 20 000 acres bought by Queen Victoria in 1862 for £220 000 (about £19 million in today’s money).  It’s a very remote place with one big house which holds the social events while the guests stay there or in  one of the many properties on the estate. Now with grandchildren and partners, some royals have to go in staff quarters and the staff double up.  Separated other halves ( Diana and Fergie) were allowed to stay on the estate so they could see their children. They were not invited to dinner but the Queen would pop in on them to have a cup of tea.

Phil and Liz stay at the farmhouse, pottering around the garden  for the months of January and February. Liz  arrives by  public train ( 1 hour 40  mins)  on the 23rd of December, then stays until the anniversary of her father’s death in February 1952. He died there, so she likes to have that memory to herself in private.

2017 was a big year for the Royals. Their 70th wedding anniversary, Philip retiring from public life. He’s 96 and his last assignment  involved him standing in the pouring rain for hours watching the Marines march past. There was the announcement of a third kid for  Kate and William.

And then the engagement of Harry and Meghan-  Oh! An American divorcee…. So no comparisons to be drawn there. But Edward 8th  was a king in a different time.

To prove that, Meghan has been allowed to breach Royal Protocol. She’s the first Royal to be invited to the Christmas do at Sandringham when not part of the family. Engagement doesn’t count- they have to be married. And they were allowed (shock horror) to stay in the same room.

The three days are all timetabled to the minute. The Queen has spent the weeks before  at Buckingham Palace overseeing the decorations of all the royal residences. Including their huge fir tree (a tradition from Victoria’s time).  Both Her and Philip sign their Christmas cards – hundreds of them.  He signs Philip, she signs Elizabeth R. ( For Elizabeth Regina)

When her train brings her to Sandingham, she travels the last 7 miles by car. All the staff, Philip clothes and presents will all have gone on ahead.


On Christmas eve the guests start to arrive. They arrive in reverse order of importance. The juniors first and  Charlie and Camilla arrive last.  You need to remember that they are a military family so there’s a clockwork timetable and if you are not punctual, you don’t get asked back.

In the afternoon they decorate the 20 feet tall spruce, all in together,  kids puts the baubles on the lower branches, and Philip  puts the gold star on top. Many of the decorations are historic and sentimental like Queen Victoria’s Glass Angels.

At  6pm, the Queen calls them to the drawing room to open presents. These are  silly humourous gifts;  toilets seat ( Anne to Charles), toilet roll holder ( Diana to Margaret), Big Mouth Billy Bass ( to the Queen), make your own girlfriend kit (Kate to Harry), a comb ( Harry to his baldy brother).
The entire staff get the same present each; a silver mustard dish or crystal glasses.

Then they change for dinner, something formal, long and classic for the ladies. Black tie for men.
For the weekend, a lady might need 10 or 12 changes of ‘dress’.
Lots of good frocks needed.

At 7.30 pre-dinner drinks are poured by Philip. The Queen has martini. Philip himself likes a pale ale but rarely drinks.
The dinner is by candlelight. The  menu is in French. They eat until ten but it is protocol that a guest cannot go to bed before the Queen ( or Margaret when she was alive) so it wasn’t uncommon for them to still be having a sing song round the piano at three in the morning.


 Up early to open stockings full of small gifts and fruit. All the corgis get a stocking too.  Breakfast is  on a huge sideboard and everybody helps themselves. Except the Queen who is served. This residence is the only one where  the Queen attends for breakfast, in the others she  stays in her quarters an eats privately while working.

At 11 am, they all go to church watched by huge crowds ( some folk have been going there for forty years to see them and it’s well known the Queen is likely to talk to you if you bring your dog. The next year she will remember the name of the dog and have little memory of you!) and the worlds media. It has become a kind of living history. Who’s married, divorced, dead,  badly dressed etc. When Queenie walks in to the church the  national anthem starts. The church was built in the 1500’s and at the moment, the royal family take up 25% of the seats. They sing hymns chosen by the Queen.

Then back to the house for Christmas Lunch; 12.45 pm. 1.15 turkey. ( the royals have 2, the staff have 8 and yes, they do cook the turkey’s first as they need the room in the oven for the veg later(
 The queen does a strict seating plan. Host  at top and bottom, then next senior  bing bonging down the table. Charles next to queen, Camilla next to Phil. No married couples are allowed to sit next to each other.

 Just in case you are invited- never point with a knife, never scoop with a fork, hold a wine glass between finger and thumb by the stem,  salt goes on the side of the plate,  napkins for men are folded with fold near the waist,  napkins for ladies has the fold at the knee so they can dab at their mouth and keep the lipstick stain from being visible.

When the Queen puts her knife and fork together EVERYBODY has to stop eating.

Then the Christmas pudding, alive with flames, (same recipe for three hundred years!!) is carried in  and everybody cheers.

By  2 45pm dinner is over,  then they have crackers. The jokes are still rubbish.

And by 3pm, they are all watching the Queen on the TV. The film crew call her ‘One Take Windsor.’
Then they take the dog for a walk,  loads of wellies. The Queen goes for a lie down before more eating and charades. It’s rumoured that the Queen does a good impersonation of Mrs Thatcher, which would be interesting as the Queen always thought Mrs Thatcher was much posher than the Queen had ever been.

And they are all in  bed by  midnight.


More breakfast and then the men go out and kill things. The ladies join them for an outdoor picnic to eat things that had been killed previously.

Then Charles goes to Scotland for New Year, Kate goes home to see her mum.

By the 27th only Philip and Queenie are left.

And you thought your Christmas  was busy!

       In case you were wondering a three line whip is what parliament does in a close vote- MPs get dragged out of sick beds and back from holidays. Free vote, One line whip, two line the three line depending how close/ how important and how interested they are.

     Caro Ramsay  29th Dec 2017


  1. Frankly, it all sounds rather exhausting. I prefer spending Christmas writing, but I suppose we're funny that way.

  2. I think I'd get kicked out for tickling a Corgi or asking for an Irn Bru. Or tickling a Corgi with Irn Bru. ( Probably technically treason and therefore a hanging offence.)

  3. I had to look that word up.
    Do you get better presents as a peon?

  4. My pooch wants to know what presents the Corgis get in their stockings!

    1. That I don't know but there is the famous story of some Prime Minister having lunch with the Queen. She took eight breadsticks, so he took eight breadsticks. She broke hers into little pieces so he broke his into little pieces. She the began to feed them to the corgis. Then said ' I presume that you too are fond of breadsticks.'

    2. This is my new favorite story!

      I enjoyed hearing about the Christmas traditions.

  5. I'm exhausted just reading about it.

    1. And I bet the house is bloody cold and the dogs will be hogging the fire.

  6. Imagine if they had to light a menorah for eight nights too!

  7. I find my own holiday celebration MUCH more interesting. I am glad I don’t have to eat all those breakfasts. Much rather have my cappuccino and pastry at Forno da Verrazano!

    1. I think I would rather join you for breakfast Annamaria! ( The chat would be of a much higher intellectual level)

  8. I'm with Stan! It sounds exhausting - I'd rather have cappuccino and pastry with Annamaria in Florence! (Hopefully one year she will invite me and I'll be free to go!)

  9. You should both come to Florence! I’ll show you all the best places.

  10. Me, too. I'd much rather have pastry and cappuccino in Florence and walk down the beautiful streets and see the artwork.

    Also, I'm not keen on the whole British monarchy system. I say take the money spent on the gowns, food and gifts and use it to feed poor people and house homeless people in Britain.

    I mean, what are the human priorities here? This is such an anachronism whereas hunger and homelessness are very real modern problems.