Royalists is The Daily Beast’s newsletter for all things royal and Royal Family. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox every Sunday.
So far, the overall ambition of King Charles’s reign can be summarized in four words: Don’t rock the boat.
It is a strategy which is likely to extend itself into the royal Christmas at Sandringham this year, with sources and insiders saying that the king will seek to emphasize continuity with the past just as much in private, with his family, as he has in public with his subjects.
“The family are still grieving the queen,” says a friend of the new king and queen, “The first Christmas without her will be a difficult time for all of them. There won’t be any jarring changes.”
One thing that seems likely to continue is the custom of giving gifts on Christmas Eve, the friend told The Daily Beast, saying: “They have been exchanging gifts the evening before Christmas Day since Prince Albert’s time. That will carry on. It is quite practical as Christmas Day itself is actually a very busy day at Sandringham.”
There is also little doubt that the emphasis will continue to be on fun, gag gifts rather than expensive items.
Charles was reputedly once given a leather toilet seat by his sister, Anne, and the Netflix series The Crown captured the Windsor’s love of a silly gifts when the late Queen Elizabeth was shown being absolutely delighted to receive a novelty singing fish from Prince Andrew, evidently preferring it a great deal over Charles’ more serious present of one of his own watercolors of the Scottish highlands .
That said, Christmas Day 2022 is likely to be the biggest gathering of royals at Sandringham for many years.
All house guests, with the exception of Prince Andrew, are expected to attend church at 11 am, and sources say that Camilla’s children, Tom Parker Bowles and Laura Lopes, will be attending for the first time, along with their five children. Tom and Laura are friendly with, but not close to, Prince William and Kate Middleton, who will be at church with their three children. For Prince Louis, 4, it will be the first time he has been on parade on Christmas Day. Here’s hoping for some funny faces.
Intriguingly, Princess Anne’s daughter Zara and her husband Mike Tindall, who were seated in the front row at the queen’s funeral, are expected to be there, a clear sign that they are members of the inner circle, and that Mike’s sojourn on British reality show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! has done nothing to damage relations (indeed it probably did the family a favor; he was a popular presence and stripped down to very tight swimming trunks). Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, Andrew’s daughters, are likely to be present for church, with their partners and children (and quite possibly, mother) in tow. Anne, Prince Edward, his wife Sophie and their families are all due.
Needless to say, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are not expected to fly in.
The other big public-facing event of the day will be the king’s televised address to the nation at 3 pm It has already been recorded, and Queen Elizabeth’s legacy is likely to be a key theme. Edward and Sophie have already, arguably, set the tone, with their Christmas card which features them with the late queen and a caption on the inside reading: “In memory of happy days.”
It will be interesting to see if Charles is able to restrain himself from bringing environmental or social messages into the address. He suggested, in his accession speech, he would set aside causes such as climate change, when he said, “My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply.”
There is no doubt this is a difficult address, and not just because it really will be a very final farewell to Queen Elizabeth when Charles flickers into life shortly after 3 pm on the nation’s screens. The UK is in a bit of a mess, battered by strikes, a cost-of-living crisis and a health-care crisis. Whether Charles can channel the healing and reconciliatory energy of his mother remains very much to be seen.
Kremlinologists will have their eyes glued to the photos that make the king’s desk. In the queen’s day, this was always a sign of who was in and who was out. Harry and Meghan were said to have made the decision to rush forward with their announcement that they were leaving the family in 2020 when they were excluded from the 2019 on-desk picture gallery. Placing an image of Harry and Meghan on the mahogany this year would be a major olive branch, but, it has to be said, it is unlikely to come to pass.
The queen always made sure that lunch was finished by 3 pm and would watch the speech alone in her study, while the rest of the family watched it together in the music room.
It is not known whether Charles will continue this tradition.
No question mark hangs over the traditional Boxing Day shoot on Dec. 26. William is still an enthusiastic huntsman and for family members and neighbors an invitation to the shoot, one of the best in the country, is a highlight of the festive season. The royals have got pretty clever about ensuring they don’t get photographed massacring pheasant and partridge, so don’t expect any photographs of this bloodthirsty ritual to leak out.
“The younger royals will probably want to spend time with their own families, so I think the two or three day celebrations of the past may, indeed, be a thing of the past.“
— Jennie Bond
There have been suggestions, however, that Sandringham could empty out quicker than in previous years. Former BBC royal commentator Jennie Bond, for example, told OK! magazine: “The younger royals will probably want to spend time with their own families, so I think the two or three day celebrations of the past may, indeed, be a thing of the past.”
William and Kate are known to be keen for their children to spend some time with Kate’s parents, Carole and Mike. They are thought not to have been invited to Sandringham, increasing the possibility that the Cambridges could hightail it to their place in Berkshire after the shoot on Boxing Day.
Indeed, King Charles himself will reportedly lead the exodus, heading to Scotland shortly after Boxing Day in stark contrast to the queen who would usually remain there until after Accession Day, Feb. 6, the anniversary of the death of her father George VI in 1952.
There may well be many in the family who will be secretly delighted that Christmas 2022 at Sandringham will come to this rather more rapid end. Much as Charles has sought to cast himself as an avuncular, even grandfatherly figure, that is not how he is generally seen in the family. He is a distant man, who takes life very seriously and spends much of his life at his desk in his office. Even his friends would agree that he doesn’t have the compelling charm of his mother. So, while the royal Christmas may look very similar for many years to come, the chances are it will start to feel quite different very quickly.