Prince George and his parents are enjoying their first Christmas in their magnificent country home.
This Royal Christmas, Kate, William and Prince George will be enjoying their first Christmas in their own home, their magnificent new country pile, Anmer Hall at which extensive renovations have only recently been completed.
It is just a few short miles down the private Sandringham estate roads from the big house itself, but the vibe will be infinitely more relaxed at ten-bedroomed Anmer Hall than it ever has been at Sandringham.
And in a big departure from established royal protocol, Prince George might even get a—gasp—present to open on Christmas Day.
To understand the potentially revolutionary nature of such a gesture, it is important to recognize that for the Queen, Christmas is primarily a religious festival, a key day of civic and religious duty as the head of the established church.
In keeping with the Queen’s Germanic origins, gifts are exchanged at Sandringham, the Queen’s country estate, on Christmas Eve. This fits neatly with Her Majesty’s broader understanding of Christmas; get the fripperies out of the way, and the let day itself be about something deeper than mere gifts.
So, on the afternoon of the 24th, all Christmas guests have strict orders to be on site in time for tea, which is served at 4pm in the white drawing room, after which guests process through to the red drawing room to open their presents.
Rather than an undignified scramble under the tree like the majority of her subjects, at Sandringham each person’s gifts are placed on individual trestle tables especially erected for the purpose. There is little doubt that William’s son and heir, Prince George will be the center of attention and showered with tasteful wooden gifts (and, perhaps, a fart cushion from his uncle Harry).
If it all sounds rather joyless, then at least there is a slap-up festive dinner (often game from the estate) to look forward to, usually served at 8:30pm.
The giving and receiving of gifts on Christmas Eve is an important tradition for the Queen, allowing Christmas Day itself to be focused on religion and duty. The Queen often used to attend church twice on Christmas Day, at 9am and 11am, but with her advancing years, now tends to be at only the later service.
But Kate is on a mission to normalize royal infancy. This year, in her own house at last, that means stockings from Santa and Christmas presents on Christmas Day, just like she enjoyed as a child.
Naturally, the Cambridges will be present for the big church service at 11am, and will be having Christmas lunch (at 2pm) at granny’s house, with Prince Philip (who is said to be in good spirits despite a difficult few years of health scares in which he has dramatically reduced the number of official engagements he undertakes) presiding as usual.
But when the Queen’s televised speech to the nation concludes shortly after 3pm (the Queen watches it in a separate room to the rest of the family and does not emerge for several hours afterwards, preferring to engage in quiet contemplation) the Cambridges—and Prince Harry, who is thought to be planning to take advantage of the more informal set up by staying with William and Kate rather than his grandmother—are expected to pile into William’s Range Rover.
Rather than play blind man’s buff, they will make the short journey back to their own new lavishly appointed stately pile and conclude their Christmas much like all the rest of the Queen’s subjects—sprawled across the sofa with a box of chocolates watching the two-hour Downton Abbey special on ITV.
Even though they have a team that makes the fictional version of Highclere Castle look a little understaffed, there is no way that Kate—who is already over 20 weeks pregnant—is going to allow anyone to get in the way of her two-hour Downton fix, even if rumors of a brief appearance by George Clooney (who did appear in a 9-minute Downton fundraiser special at the weekend) are wide of the mark.
William disclosed the royal couple’s viewing habits when he spoke to Downton Abbey’s executive producer Gareth Neame at a reception during their recent trip to New York.
“He said that he was really looking forward to the episode that we run on Christmas Day which is the season finale,” Neame said at the time.
At Sandringham, the notion of slobbing out in front of the telly for two hours would not go down particularly well with HM, to say the least.
Boxing Day—as we Brits call the day after Christmas—will be dominated by the annual pheasant shoot, and it is believed that Kate’s sister Pippa and her brother James may both join the hunt as guns.
After Prince Charles was recently photographed holding a gun on the estate, however, there is speculation that William may not shoot—he will certainly be more careful than his dad was not to be pictured with a gun in his hand, aware as he is of how such photos can lead to charges of hypocrisy when it comes to his conservation work.
After the shoot, it will be an invite to Anmer Hall, where Kate plans to continue celebrating the season in her own unstuffy way, that will be the most prized ticket on the Sandringham estate this year.