Five unusual royal Christmas traditions past and present

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·4 min read

Watch: The Royal Family at Christmas

The Royal Family has its own set of traditions and practices it follows every year at Christmas.

Today’s royals have carried on many elements of festive celebrations from their ancestors – but have also left some of them firmly in the past.

Yahoo UK looks at some of the unusual things royals have done, past and present.

1. The Queen carries on a weighty tradition

According to royal biographer and expert Ingrid Seward, the Queen continues a tradition from King Edward VII who would weigh his guests when they arrived at Sandringham for Christmas.

Seward told Grazia guests weigh themselves when they arrive and leave on antique scales, to check they have eaten well during their stay.

2. And she leaves the decorations up for weeks

The Queen usually spends Christmas in Sandringham (though in 2020 she will stay in Windsor), and heads there about a week before the big day.

However, while most people deem the Christmas break to be over by 2 January, she stays in Norfolk until after 6 February.

KING'S LYNN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Queen Elizabeth II boards her train back to London after the Christmas break at Sandringham on February 7, 2018 in King's Lynn, England.  (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
The Queen stays in Sandringham until February and returns by train, as she did here in 2018. (Mark Cuthbert/UK Press)

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That’s because she likes to mark the date she acceded to the throne privately, because it’s the date her father died.

According to several reports, she keeps the Christmas decorations up until then too.

The traditional date to take them down is Twelfth Night, 6 January, which commemorates the visit of the Magi to Jesus after his birth.

3. Christmas gave royals a link to the past

Time in 2020 has become the butt of many jokes, with people unconvinced December is coming when they still feel like it’s March.

And that concept of time moving too quickly is not unique to this tumultuous year.

Queen Victoria's Christmas Tree, 1850. Found in the collection of Royal Collection, London. Artist :  Roberts, James (1824-1867). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Queen Victoria's Christmas Tree, 1850 from the collection of Royal Collection, London, by James Roberts). (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Dr Mark Connely, in a talk for Historic Royal Palaces, said: “Victorians bequeathed an obsession with time – time present, time past and time future. As Britain’s first industrial nation, time seems to have sped up for them.

“There was a belief that Christmas united the Anglo-Saxon people in particular, that there was something linking us back to the ancient heart of Anglo-Saxondom, so we are not drifted away from the past.”

He added: “As then there is an imperial family that can be linked, as the empire spreads across the globe, there is a spiritual communion of the British family that can happen on Christmas Day.

“By the 1930s that is given a huge boost by the BBC and the monarch’s Christmas broadcast, the empire is linked on Christmas Day. It goes around the empire, to South Africa, east to Vancouver, all the stations link up and it comes back to Britain.”

4. Mince pies and turkey? Thank the Tudors

A turkey at the centre of a Christmas Day dinner is a staple tradition for many British families.

According to History.com, it’s the Tudors we can thank for that tradition, as well as for mince pies.

However both of those traditions looked a little different to the way they look in 2020. In Tudor times, it had been common to have a boar’s head for Christmas dinner, but a Christmas Day pie became a sign of wealth from 1530 when turkey arrived.

It usually featured “a turkey stuffed with a goose, which was stuffed with a chicken, which was stuffed with a partridge, which was stuffed with a pigeon” all inside pastry.

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But Dr Connely added that it was rising in popularity by the 1880s, thanks to how quickly turkeys can be fattened up with something relatively cheap – grain.

Previously, beef and goose would have been traditional for many people.

Mince pies were very different too in the Tudor era, as they would have been a mixed sweet and savoury dish.

They included suet, mincemeat, especially mutton, as well as dried fruit and spices.

5. Presents on Christmas Eve

The royals have a long tradition of exchanging presents on Christmas Eve, and it dates back to the time of Queen Victoria.

However, Dr Connely noted that the tradition did not spread to the rest of the country.

He also pointed out that Prince Albert did not bring the tree to the UK, but did help to popularise it.

Trees had already been brought to the UK by Germanic traders, and by Queen Charlotte.

While today’s British royals carry on the Christmas Eve tradition, they aren’t the only royals to have avoided presents on 25 December.

According to the John Whitgift Foundation, Tudors used to swap gifts on New Year’s Day, and the presents marked the start of the new year.

And there was a lot of pressure on gift givers, because royals would refuse presents if they wanted to show disapproval.

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