Kate Middleton and Prince William have made a dramatic decision this year—they and their children, George and Charlotte, are going to skip the formality of Christmas with the Queen at Sandringham to spend a relaxed family day at the home of Kate’s mom and dad.
The move has come as little surprise in court circles.
Unimaginable as it may have been ten years ago for a senior royal to bail on the dutiful seriousness of Sandringham in favor of a devoutly middle-class Christmas experience in the home counties, the Queen is said to be entirely relaxed about the protocol-busting decision of the young royals to spend Christmas at the home of Carole and Mike Middleton.
Equally astonishing is the fact that Carole Middleton has organized a shoot on Boxing Day, as the British call the 26 December, leasing out the Yattendon Estate in Thatcham, near Newbury, for a private day, at a cost of some $40,000.
The guns will include, of course Kate’s sister Pippa (who likes shooting) and her husband-to-be James Matthews, but the undoubted star of the show will be Prince William himself.
Prince William would usually be shooting at Sandringham, where the Boxing Day shoot is legendary.
The shoot is still personally organized by Philip, and takes place over woods laid out by Prince Albert expressly for the purpose of blasting specially reared partridge and pheasants. It is said, unsurprisingly, to be some of the best shooting in England.
The decision of William and Kate to pass on both of the big days at Sandringham is a pivotal moment in their declaration of independence, a statement that they can’t be relied on to do things a certain way simply because that’s the way they have always been done.
And Christmas, with the extraordinarily important set piece of the Royal Family walking to church in Sandringham, is a clever way to reinforce their modernizing tendencies, to make it clear to the family and the public that they put creating some normality for their kids before what would once have been regarded as their sacred duty.
Things have been leading up to this moment for some time, with Kate gradually pulling back from the strictures and stresses of Christmassing with the Queen; last year, for example, William and Kate did not actually attend Christmas lunch at Sandringham, instead hosting lunch at their country pad, Anmer Hall, for Kate’s family.
Kate has been the prime mover in abandoning some of the more archaic and frugal Windsor Christmas traditions, which originate in the family’s German heritage.
These include a marked lack of gift-filled Christmas stockings at the end of the bed, and presents being exchanged on Christmas Eve, thereby leaving Christmas Day itself free for lots of God, duty and walking.
The Queen hosts a relatively frugal Christmas lunch—lasting under an hour—and there is a complete ban on watching any TV other than the Queen’s Speech.
Additionally, children are not allowed to join the adults for any meals at Sandringham until they are 11 or 12, eating instead in a separate room, and this is thought to have been a deciding factor in Kate’s decision to skip lunch last year.
Kate wants a Christmas closer to the one enjoyed by the Queen’s subjects: feasting, slobbing out in front of Only Fools And Horses and a bit of silliness.
This is very much the order of the day at Middleton Towers; Pippa has previously described how her father Michael has a habit of donning fancy dress, writing in the Spectator: “My father has developed this funny tradition of surprising us at some point by appearing in fancy dress. He buys a new costume each year and typically gets a bit carried away—a couple of Christmases ago, he appeared in an inflatable sumo outfit.”
Kate, shrewdly, did not rush to make changes to the royal Christmas routine. For the first few years of her marriage to William, she patiently toed the line, giving her gifts on Christmas Eve and allowing them to be laid out on tables in the Red Drawing Room by staff (according to the Germanic custom of the royals).
But now, as she gains in confidence and determination, few could fault her for forging a new path through the holly and the ivy.
And let’s be honest, Christmas with the Middletons sounds considerably more chill than Christmas with William’s granny.