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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry open up about their first Christmas together with the royal family

The Duchess of Sussex's invitation in 2017 marked a break in tradition for the royals

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arriving to attend Christmas church service
Sharnaz Shahid
Deputy Online Editor
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The royal family typically spends Christmas at Sandringham – and over the years, there have been some strict rules regarding the guest list. However, in 2017, just weeks after confirming her engagement to Prince Harry, former actress Meghan Markle was invited to join the royal family to spend Christmas with them. 

A few days after the momentous occasion, Prince Harry revealed how his then-fiancée had a "fantastic" time with the late Queen and his family over Christmas. "The family loved having her there. I think together, we had an amazing time," he told BBC Radio 4's Today show in December 2017 when probed. 

Meghan Markle's first Christmas with royals© Getty
Meghan Markle's first Christmas with the royals took place in 2017 months before her wedding

The Duke added: "The family loved having her there. There's always that family part of Christmas [where] there's always that work element there as well, and I think together we had an amazing time. We had great fun staying with my brother and sister-in-law and running round with the kids. Christmas was fantastic." 

Asked if there were any family traditions that had to be explained to his partner, Prince Harry divulged: "Oh plenty, I think we've got one of the biggest families that I know of, and every family is complex as well. No look, she's done an absolutely amazing job. She's getting in there and it’s the family I suppose that she's never had." 

Last year, in the couple's Netflix series, Harry & Meghan, the former Suits star opened up about her first Christmas with the royals. Revealing how she was seated next to Harry's grandfather, Prince Philip, Meghan said: "At dinner, I was sat next to H's grandfather and I just thought it was so wonderful and I was like, 'Oh we chatted and it was so great and I talked about this and talked about this'." 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle with Prince William and Kate Middleton© Getty
Prince Harry and Meghan also spent Christmas Day with the royals in 2018

However, Prince Harry later informed her that she "had his bad ear," to which, Meghan laughed: "I was like, 'Oh - well, I thought it went really well.'" 

Of the day, Meghan described: "I remember so vividly the first Christmas at Sandringham, calling my mom, and she's like 'How's it going?' and I said 'Oh my gosh it’s amazing'. It's just like a big family like I always wanted. And there was just this constant movement and energy and fun."

Her invitation marked a break in tradition for the royals as the family's Christmas celebrations were historically limited to members of the Firm or married partners. 

WATCH: Meghan Markle describes amazing first Christmas with royals at Sandringham

The Princess of Wales was not invited to join Prince William for Christmas in 2010, despite announcing their engagement a month before. England rugby player Mike Tindall was also not invited during his engagement to Princess Anne's daughter Zara Phillips, also in 2010. 

However, a year after Meghan's first Christmas with the royals, Princess Beatrice's then fiancé, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, was allowed to spend time on their Norfolk estate back in 2019, despite not officially being part of the family. 

Meghan Markle walking with Prince Harry© Getty
The former actress' first royal Christmas was a big hit according to Prince Harry

About this break in tradition, HELLO!'s Online Royal Correspondent, Danielle Stacey, says: "Whether there was an unwritten rule about the royals' girlfriends and boyfriends being invited to Christmas before marriage, we'll never know, but it certainly seems to have been relaxed in recent years. 

"If you think of modern families now and how many couples choose to cohabit for a long time before marriage, it's a reflection of modern society that Meghan and Edoardo were invited to join the royals for Christmas Day before their weddings. 

When do the Royal Family eat on Christmas Day?

Former royal butler Grant Harrold, who gave HELLO! an etiquette lesson earlier this year, also weighed in on the timings of the culinary feast that occurs at Sandringham over the festive season. 

"At the end of Christmas Day… the royals must go to Weight Watchers," he joked, giving more detail about the endless courses enjoyed by the family.

King Charles drinking a mojito garnished with mint during Cuba visit

Royal Family Christmas Day schedule

  • 8:00 AM - Breakfast
  • 11:00 AM - Elevenses (where tea and coffee is served with biscuits)
  • 12:30 AM - Pre-lunch drinks
  • 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM - Lunch
  • 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM - Afternoon Tea
  • 6:30 PM Pre-evening drinks
  • 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM Pre-dinner drinks
  • 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM Dinner

"If they're going to have supper, which is unlikely, that would be between 10 and midnight," Grant explained. "And then they’ll start it all again the following morning," he concluded, but not before teasing: "In between that they've signed up to Weight Watchers."

"It's also an opportunity for newer members to get to know the royals in a more intimate setting. We know that the Windsors sit down for a formal dinner on Christmas Eve after exchanging presents, and then there's a traditional Turkey dinner on Christmas Day, followed by a day of outdoor pursuits, including shooting and long walks, on Boxing Day."

A Right Royal Podcast Christmas Special: 

On this week's show, we visit Windsor Castle to learn all about how a palace is turned festive and we also visit the Tower of London, where Curator and Public Historian Charles Farris talks us through Christmas and coronations past with some astonishing anecdotes. We'll also be speaking to Call the Midwife star Leonie Elliott fresh from her appearance at the Princess of Wales' carol service, plus we also have podcast favourite the brilliant Alexis Ffrench playing us out with a very special Christmas performance.