Royal Roundup: A Windsor Family Christmas

The royals at Sandringham, Christmas 2010. (AP Images)

Those royalty lessons Kate’s been getting must be working. The Duchess hasn’t made a misstep yet, though of course that might have just as much to do with her own innate poise and finely-tuned sensibilities as with any royal counsel she receives.

But observers – and there are lots of them – are wondering about Kate’s first Christmas as the newest and most highly scrutinized member of the royal family.

Major holidays can be difficult for any family, and especially so for newlyweds who can find themselves for the first time tugged between loyalties.

But all bets are off if one of those families happens to be the Windsors, with whom, writes The Express, “Christmas is not for the faint hearted.”

“Magnificent it may be,” writes the paper, “but for a newcomer like Kate it is a minefield of protocol and curious family traditions.” This year’s weekend, with 27 royal guests invited, is apparently the largest in decades – large enough that fitting everyone in has reportedly involved some shuffling of rooms among staffers at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

As large as party of guests is, however, relatives of royal spouses are generally not invited, which means that Kate will have to celebrate with her own parents some other time. (They’re used to vacationing in warmer climes, anyway – they usually spend Christmas on the trendy sun-drenched island of Mustique.)

The Queen’s Christmas gathering, writes the Express, is well known for the “intense sartorial competition between the royal ladies.” The clothing craziness means that there can be more costume changes than you’d see at a theatrical play, which, honestly, is kind of what Christmas at Sandringham sounds like.

There are, however, differing reports on the exact number of those wardrobe changes this year. The Sun, which hosted the Millie Awards the other night, reported that Kate, who was in attendance, told one of the guests that she would wear five different outfits on one day.

“She said she was looking forward to Christmas with Prince William‘s family, and said she had to change dress five times on Christmas Day,” the guest told the paper. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The Express says the number won’t be quite that high: “Five daily changes of clothing are a thing of the past,” the paper said, but “two or three are often still required.”

Whatever the eventual number of clothing changes, one thing is certain: Kate will “undoubtedly be the centre of attention,” writes the Press Association. “A large media presence is expected when the Queen and her family walk to and from church, greeting well-wishers along the way.”

So it’s basically a choreographed Christmas, not all that different from the other public events Kate attends. “The Queen is a stickler for tradition and hands out timetables for every royal so they know where they need to be for the weekend of celebrations,” notes the Australian Herald Sun.

Some of the guests arrive as early as today (Friday), while the Queen arrived earlier in the week, taking the train, which surprised her fellow passengers. Although she travelled first class, the Daily Mail said her trip was “a far cry” from the luxury of the royal train, now seldom used because it’s so expensive to run.

The Queen arriving at King's Lynn station, Norfolk, on her way to Sandringham for Christmas, Dec. 20. (Rui Vieira/AP Images)

During the weekend, actual gifts are exchanged, German or Danish style, on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas morning. All the wrapped packages are put out on a large table, and when the Queen gives the signal, all the royals rush to get their presents, in what one royal has called “a total uproar.”

The point of the gifts is often largely humorous. Prince Harry was said to have given his grandmum, the Queen, a shower cap that had “Ain’t Life a Bitch” written on it.

The Herald Sun says Kate is planning to give Harry a “Grow-Your-Own-Girlfriend Kit.”