queen at christmas

What Meghan Markle can expect from her first Christmas with the royals

The festivities are held at Her Majesty's grand country home, Sandringham Estate, in Norfolk

Ainhoa Barcelona

Christmas is the time to be with your family and loved ones, and the royals are no exception when it comes to the festive season. They take a break from their official duties, instead choosing to mark the holiday in private. But how exactly do they celebrate? The festivities are held at the Queen's grand country home, Sandringham Estate, in Norfolk. The 91-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip usually retreat to the country the week before Christmas, around 21 December, to prepare for the big family reunion.

Other guests arrive at the 20,000-acre estate from 23 December in order of precedence, with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall usually the last to arrive. While the family are welcomed to Sandringham House, Prince William and Kate usually stay in their own residence, Anmer Hall, just down the road from the 'big house'.

The Queen hosts her family at Sandringham

Christmas 2017 will be extra special, as the royals will have a newcomer at the dinner table – Prince Harry's fiancée, Meghan Markle. Kensington Palace has confirmed that Meghan, 36, will celebrate Christmas with the Queen, who she has met before. But it's widely been speculated that the actress and Harry will stay over at William and Kate's home once the meal is over.

On Christmas Eve when all the clan are together, the Queen's grandchildren and great-grandchildren put the finishing touches to the 20ft Christmas tree in the White Drawing Room. Presents will be opened that day at tea time as the royals still keep to the German practice of opening their gifts on Christmas Eve. Gifts are laid out in the Red Drawing Room on a white linen-covered trestle table, with cards marking exactly where the piles of gifts should be put.

The royals attend a church service on Christmas Day 

However, the monarch's gifts are unlikely to be pricey. Touchingly for people who have everything, the royals tend to buy each other jokey things. A white leather loo suit was the star item one year. If Meghan is racking her brain for a Christmas gift for the Queen, she could take after the Duchess of Cambridge, who has also openly admitted she was left stumped over what to buy the monarch one year. ''I thought 'I'll make her something'. Which could have gone horribly wrong. But I decided to make my granny's recipe of chutney," said Kate.

There will be plenty of presents for tiny hands to unwrap. Prince George, four, and Princess Charlotte, two, will no doubt have a ball with their little cousins Mia Tindall, who turns four in January, and Savannah and Isla Phillips, aged six and five.

They greet well-wishers after the service

At 5pm on Christmas Eve, guests enjoy tea, scones, sandwiches and cakes from sideboards in the Saloon. Afterwards, they dress for dinner, with the table set with the finest china. At 8pm a candle-lit dinner is served with the ladies in gowns and jewels and the men in black tie. It is a relatively formal affair, but also the chance for the families to catch up. This year there will be plenty of exciting news to talk about – Meghan and Harry are preparing to say "I do" in May, while Prince William and Kate are also expecting their third child in April.

Later in the evening, sometime after 10pm, Meghan will be separated from Harry. On a signal from the Queen, the corgis are led out and the ladies adjourn, leaving Prince Philip to serve port or brandy to the men. If Meghan and Harry are indeed staying at William and Kate's house down the road, the couples will likely retire and go home.

The Queen's speech is broadcast in the afternoon

For the royals who stay over at Sandringham, they will awake on Christmas Day to find stockings filled with small gifts and fruit at the foot of their beds. A full English breakfast is served, before everyone attends the traditional church service at St Mary's Magdalene. The royals usually meet well-wishers outside the church. Afterwards, it's back home for a turkey roast with all the trimmings at 1pm, before everyone gathers at 3pm to watch the Queen's Speech. And the staff can finally put their feet up, as the family insist on serving themselves their own buffet supper.

Want to know how the royals celebrated Christmas last year?