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Sandringham House is a country house near Sandringham, Norfolk, England. It is the private home of Queen Elizabeth II. The house stands within a 20,000 acres estate in the Norfolk Coast Area.

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So it was announced that HRH Prince Henry (Harry) and his fiancée Meghan Markle will be spending this Christmas with the other members of the Royal Family. Meghan was invited by HM the Queen,  the family spends several days celebrating but it will not be at all like most people imagine a family Christmas is spent, you know in your jammies opening gifts and just being silly, letting our hair down etc.

Anytime spent in the presence of Her Majesty is a highly choreographed affair with briefing on what to wear and at what time each event takes place, all of it of course is private and no one from the public in attendance. It will be quite the adjustment for Megan and it is a test in a way to see if she can conform to a life time of following an exact program. It is a world very far removed from the common folk and not even TV series like Downtown Abbey can give an idea of what all this would be like. The actors in that television series portrayed rich aristocrats not the Royals.

Here is a little description of what it will be like.

Christmas traditions are sacred, and in that sense, the royal family is no different. Every year, the Queen goes up to Sandringham House in Norfolk on the 19th or 20th of December, with the rest of the family arriving on Christmas Eve around lunchtime.

Unfortunately for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and now Meghan,  Christmas with Granny doesn’t mean they’ll be spending the holidays in a relaxed family atmosphere. In fact, Christmas at the queen’s official Winter retreat, Sandringham, is a different beast altogether.

While most of us think of Christmas as being a quiet, casual time at home, the holidays are hardly a low-key affair for the royals. Family members to the Queen’s Christmas Celebrations are required to adhere to court protocol, including bowing or curtseying to their royal superiors and paying attention to who enters a room first. Even their arrivals are coordinated based on seniority, with junior members arriving at Sandringham first and the more senior ones arriving last. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, always arrive last, as Charles is the immediate heir to the throne. The queen arrives at the estate usually a few days before her guests so she can oversee the preparations. Yes family members are seen as guests in the House of the Queen.

In addition to coordinating their arrivals, family members have to adhere to the queen’s perfectly timed schedule. They are typically given an outline of their activities upon arrival so they can coordinate their outfit changes and timing. Family members also cannot go to bed before the queen, who typically stays up until midnight. (However, we imagine exceptions would be made for sleepy little ones like Prince George and Princess Charlotte.)

Again, Christmas at Sandringham is not a casual affair, and guests are expected to make at least three outfit changes throughout the day, including an outfit change for morning activities, a new ensemble for afternoon tea (usually a suit or tweed dress for women), and formal attire complete with jewels at dinner. Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, once complained that she once had to wear seven different outfits in a 24-hour period when she used to be invited to the holiday celebrations.

Keeping with tradition, the food at Sandringham tends to be your typical holiday fare, including a Christmas turkey accompanied by winter root vegetables like parsnips. Royal Family members also start their days on the estate with a typical English breakfast, complete with bacon, sausages, kippers, and kidneys.

Prince Charles famously brings in his own organic vegetables and food to eat that come straight from his garden in Highgrove. Charles prefers poached plums from his estate, so his valet would often place up to four bottles of the treats in the estate’s fridge.

Family members typically arrive at the estate on Christmas Eve in the early afternoon, where they are ushered to their rooms to change for tea. At 4 p.m., they gathers in the White Drawing Room for tea and snacks, while children are given last-minute ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree. Then, everyone is ushered into the Red Drawing Room, where tables are set up with presents which are, again, displayed in order of royal precedence. (The family opens their presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, as the queen believes Dec. 25 should be reserved for religion.)

Rather than fancy gifts, the royal family exchanges joke presents — the sillier, the better. Diana famously made a mistake during one of her first Christmases at Sandringham, bringing an expensive cashmere sweaters and luxury items to give to her in-laws. It appears that Kate has gotten the hang of royal gifting, as she reportedly gave Prince Harry a plastic Grow Your Own Girlfriend kit during an early visit. Previous gifts that made a splash include a padded toilet-seat cover that Princess Anne gave Prince Charles and a pepper mill that one family member gave to Prince Philip.

Later, the family changes once again for dinner, donning formal clothing and jewels. The adults and older children dine together, while the youngsters play in a nursery. After dinner, the queen stands to signal to the women in the party that they should move to another room for coffee, while the men stay behind for an after-dinner drink.

On Christmas Day

After breakfast, the entire royal family dons their best church clothing for a visit to the Sandringham parish church at 11 a.m., where they are usually greeted by a large crowd of fans and photographers, the service last exactly 12 minutes. Then, everyone heads back to the big house for lunch, which includes a Christmas turkey and a selection of cold meats, before watching the queen’s annual Christmas message on TV at 3 p.m.

After lunch, the family is free to roam around the estate or, if they prefer, stay inside and watch TV, which is usually full of special Christmas-themed TV shows.

Boxing Day

Following another traditional breakfast, the group heads out for an annual pheasant shoot on the estate. The men are the only people who are allowed to take part in the hunt, as ladies are not allowed to use a gun in the presence of the queen. Once the shoot is over, the party begins to break up, with everyone heading home to spend the holidays with other members of their families. Kate and William typically visit Kate’s parents in Bucklebury before heading to Balmoral to meet up with Charles and Camilla again. However, now that the Cambridges have a home at nearby Anmer Hall (which sits on the Sandringham grounds) there is talk that the Middletons will stay at Anmer Hall and join the royal family for various events during the holiday.

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Anmer Hall built in 1802 in the Georgian style and renovated in 2015 at a cost of $3million dollars. Home to William and Kate and the kids.

While everyone else takes off, the queen and Prince Philip will remain at Sandringham until February. Reportedly, the queen insists that the Christmas decorations stay up during her entire term at the estate.

I wonder how will Meghan manage all that? She is not a Royal and very low on the totem pole. She will have to prove herself to the Queen and the rest of the family, this is probably the most difficult part. Fail and you are in for a lot of misery.

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 The White Drawing room, Sandringham
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