Ever wondered how the royals spend the holidays?
It’s the season for family gatherings, festive markets and cookie exchanges, but this year marks the first without Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the House of Windsor. Nevertheless, the royals have more than their share of quirky and downright unusual Christmas traditions that will leave you scratching your head.
From gut-busting gag gifts and garlic bans to proper teacup etiquette and a rather shocking before-and-after dinner weigh-in, we’ve uncovered some of the most bizarre “holiday commandments” the royal family has to follow.
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Thou shalt … attend the annual holiday luncheon
Before her passing, a week before Christmas, Queen Elizabeth hosted an annual luncheon at Buckingham Palace for her entire extended family — an exclusive guest list that typically totals more than 50 people. Little else is known about the top-secret event (no photography is allowed), leaving royal watchers and the British tabloids desperately searching for what actually goes on behind those gilded gates.
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Thou shalt … spend Christmas at Sandringham
If you thought prepping a massive Christmas turkey for your holiday feast was stressful, how do you think the royal cooks feel? Christmas week at Sandringham House on the queen's private Norfolk estate is an absolute must-attend — although the rare exception is sometimes granted. Once upon a time, close family weren't allowed to spend Christmas away from Sandringham. Just ask Princess Diana, who never got to spend the big day with her Spencer clan. In recent years, however, the queen allowed for some wiggle room, letting Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales visit the Middleton family in 2014. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have since moved to the former actress' native California with no plans to return for the holidays.
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Thou shalt … buy gag-worthy gifts
Set aside any preconceived notions you might have as to the types of presents the royal family buy one another during the holidays. As it turns out, it's all about a good gag. On Christmas Eve, the Windsors lay out their gifts on a table and exchange them over piping hot cups of tea. The theme? Cheap, cheerful and full-out hilarious. As a way to cut loose and avoid flaunting their wealth, the royal family buys each other gag gifts instead of expensive items. A few years back, Kate famously bought the then-single Harry a "Grow Your Own Girlfriend" kit, while the prince allegedly bought his beloved granny a shower cap with "Ain't Life a B*tch" printed across the top. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Her Majesty opened that gift.
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Thou shalt … walk to church on Christmas morning
It's an annual tradition for Norfolk locals to line the streets leading to St. Mary Magdalene church on the Sandringham estate to catch a glimpse of the royal family as they walk (on foot) to attend the 45-minute service on Christmas Day. The Windsor clan — minus the kids — walks the entire way, greeting royal watchers along the path, with the exception of Her Majesty (or now His Majesty), who arrives promptly at the church door by car. The 2017 service, in particular, was big for royal fans since it was the first time the not-yet-a-duchess Meghan curtsied to the queen in public. Naturally, it was dissected by news outlets for days afterward. A few things the former actress needed to remember: curtsies should never graze the floor; you simply put one leg behind the other, allow for a gentle bend at the knees and bow your head slightly. (Meghan nailed it, for the record.)
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Thou shalt … always dress formally
This shouldn't really come as a surprise, but it still needs to be said: there's no lounging around in PJs — not even on Christmas morning. (Our sympathies go out to the little ones — George, Charlotte and Louis.) The entire family has to be dressed and ready for all the Christmas Day festivities, from the morning church service to the formal evening dinner. Modesty first, while still being fashionable, of course — and remember, no cleavage!
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Thou shalt … be weighed before and after dinner
This is not a joke, friends. According to royal expert and Majesty editor-in-chief, Ingrid Stewart, every royal family member is weighed before and after their Christmas dinner. (We'll give you a moment to let that sink in.) It's apparently a tradition that dates back to the early 1900s during the reign of King Edward VII who, as a way of determining whether or not his guests had been sufficiently fed, asked them all to step on the scale. As... sweet (?)... as that sounds, given the fact that the Windsors enjoy three huge meals throughout Christmas Day, the scale seems more than a little excessive. Some traditions just don't age well.
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If you don't speak the language and plan on marrying into the royal family, you might want to start brushing up now. Like every other meal the queen enjoys throughout the year, the Christmas dinner menu is supposedly printed in French. No word on whether Kate or Meghan were familiar with the language when they spent their first Christmas with the royals, but the queen was highly fluent in French and preferred it being used during all formal dinner occasions.
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Thou shalt not … eat garlic
We've all got those foods or seasonings we simply can't stand, be it due to taste or texture. Her Majesty, however, had one intense dislike that also happens to be a common cooking ingredient: garlic. "They're missing out on garlic because, at Buckingham Palace, you don't cook with garlic. I suppose, in case you get the 'royal burp,'" former royal chef John Higgins told the National Post in 2016. The real reason, according to reports? The queen hated the smell.
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Thou shalt … cease to eat once Her Majesty is done
One of the great things about being a queen is that, when it comes to meals, you set the pace. When Her Majesty would take her last bite, she'd reportedly quietly put down her fork and everyone else would have to follow her lead, whether or not they were actually done with their food. We imagine the struggle is real for the majority of her guests.
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Thou shalt … fold thy napkins in half
When at the table, napkins allegedly must be folded in half at all times to avoid unsightly stains and food bits. Royals are expected to gently wipe their mouths and hands inside the fold of their napkins. Otherwise, they would risk dirty clothes and gross napkins coloured in a variety of less-than-appetizing food stains. Out of sight, out of mind.
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Thou shalt not … play Monopoly
During the holiday break, the royals enjoy a rousing game of charades. Her Majesty loved it so much that no one else could retire from the room until she was done playing. But there's one game, in particular, that is strictly prohibited — Monopoly. Yes, the ancient little board game where you collect real estate and "get out of jail free" cards. Why? In the past, it's gotten too competitive and heated, so the queen had it banished. What we want to know is who the guilty party is — for some reason, we think it might have been Prince Philip back in the day.
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Thou shalt … use utensils properly
The majority of us commoners don't typically spend time dwelling on how we cut into our food during a meal, but the royals take their dining etiquette very seriously. Regardless of whether you're right-handed or left-handed, knives must be held with your right and forks with your left (with the tines facing down, of course). It doesn't end there: once you've cut off a piece of food, it must be balanced on the back of the fork, instead of poked through with the tines.
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Thou shalt … follow the leader
Entrances are an important factor in the Windsor family hierarchy, and the Orders of Precedence pecking order is nailed down to an exact science. The procession, naturally, begins with the queen and continues in order of those next in line to the throne. For example, prior to his death in April 2021, Prince Philip never entered a room alongside his wife — he always trailed behind her by a few paces during all public and formal events.
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Thou shalt … drink tea correctly
Yes, there's a correct way to hold a teacup and saucer — and, yes, that means you've probably been doing it wrong. As etiquette expert Myka Meier told People magazine, a royal is expected to use their thumb and index finger to hold the top of the handle, with the middle finger gently supporting the bottom of the cup. Keep those pinkies tucked in! In addition, the females have an extra rule to abide by — they must sip from the exact same spot to avoid lipstick stains around the rim.
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Thou shalt not … take down Christmas decor until February
Although some of the guests start to leave Sandringham House as of Boxing Day, Queen Elizabeth continued with all the festivities until the second week of February. Although this might seem odd to some, there's actually a really poignant reason behind Her Majesty's desire to keep the tree and tinsel up for an extra month-and-a-half. Her father, King George VI, died on February 6, 1952, and it was her way of remembering him during the holiday season before she went back to London for the year. It no doubt also helps combat the January blues.
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