Will the Queen meet any of her family outside at Christmas? How royal festive traditions change with the times

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For the past few years, there has been much anticipation before Christmas over how members of the Royal Family would come together to mark the festive season.

Amid rumours of rifts involving Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, public appearances at Christmas became an opportunity to try to suss out the true nature of royal relationships. Maybe a sideways glance during a walk to church would indicate who was getting along — or not — with whom?

Such glimpses might not come anywhere close to revealing much of anything, but the interest was there.

It is still there, even in this year turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, complete with the recommended abandonment of large family get-togethers — royal or otherwise — over the holidays.

Queen Elizabeth has decided she and Prince Philip will mark Christmas quietly at Windsor Castle — where they have been living in virtual isolation for most of the pandemic — rather than with the large family gathering that has taken place over Christmas at her Sandringham estate northeast of London for more than three decades.

New, stricter pandemic restrictions announced Saturday that cover the area around Windsor could mean further changes to any plans some members of the Royal Family may have had for Christmas Day.

“Under these restrictions, individuals may meet with one person from another household outdoors, and there will be interest in whether one of the Queen’s children or grandchildren meets with her outside Windsor Castle at Christmas in accordance with these requirements,” said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author.

Kate, left, William, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, keep their physical distance as they thank volunteers and key workers at Windsor Castle on Dec. 8. (Richard Pohle/Getty Images)

Already there has been notable interest in another outdoor — and physically distanced — pre-Christmas meeting of some senior members of the family at Windsor Castle. 

The Queen stood outside, well apart from William and Kate, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as they thanked volunteers and workers from local charitable organizations.

It’s hardly the first time the Royal Family has altered its actions to accommodate the world around them.

“During times of crisis, the Royal Family adjusts their own routines to reflect the conditions experienced by the wider public,” said Harris.

In the Second World War, food was rationed at Buckingham Palace, even on formal occasions, when more modest meals were served to visitors — albeit still on the fancy china.

The announcement earlier this month of the Queen’s decision to mark Christmas quietly at Windsor Castle “just shows how … clear the palace [is] about understanding the nation, or particularly the Queen is, in her 95th year,” said British public relations expert Mark Borkowski, adding that the announcement was a further reflection of her ability to do “the right thing at the right time in the right way.”

William and Kate walk with their children, Prince Louis, left, Princess Charlotte and Prince George, on the red carpet — their first such appearance as a family — to attend a special pantomime performance in London on Dec. 11 to thank key workers and their families for their efforts throughout the pandemic. (Aaron Chown/Getty Images)

Harris said public interest in royal Christmas celebrations mirrors the interest in royal weddings and births — they’re milestones that average people also experience and ones that could provide “a glimpse of more personal moments.”

That was seen this year, she said, when William and Kate took their children to see a Christmas pantomime, and there was public curiosity about how Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis responded to the performance, and how their parents explained the jokes to them.

Watching how the royals celebrate Christmas goes back several generations.

Some of the traditions they followed then found favour with the wider public, especially during the 19th-century reign of Queen Victoria, when her husband, Prince Albert, brought his own traditions from Germany, particularly the Christmas tree.

Christmas trees had been in use during previous royal Christmases, but the unprecedented expansion of that era’s mass media helped to spread the word about what the royals were doing in the festive season. 

William and Kate sit with Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte at the pantomime performance. (Aaron Chown/Getty Images)

“An image in the London Illustrated News of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, their children and Queen Victoria’s mother gathered around the Christmas tree provided a famous image of the royal Christmas, which was widely admired and emulated,” said Harris.

In that instance, there was also some royal image management going on in an attempt to counter public perception of the monarchy at the time.

“After the scandalous reigns of Queen Victoria’s uncles, George IV and William IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were determined to demonstrate that the monarchy was once again respectable and mirrored the prevailing middle-class views of the importance of domesticity and the home as a refuge from the concerns of the wider world,” said Harris.

Ready for his shot

Prince Charles, wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus, arrives to meet with workers at a vaccination centre in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Glouscestershire, England, on Thursday. (Chris Jackson/The Associated Press)

Prince Charles, who had COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic, says he will get a vaccination against the coronavirus.

But he’s not expecting his shot will come any time soon.

His comments came Thursday as he and Camilla toured a vaccination centre in western England and met front-line health-care workers administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Charles chats with front-line workers administering and receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. (Chris Jackson/The Associated Press)

“I think I’ll have to wait for the AstraZeneca one before it gets to my turn. I’m some way down the list,” Charles said, according to a report from ITV.

Speculation has swirled about whether or when his mother, the Queen, might also receive a coronavirus vaccine, with palace comments widely reported that she might let it be known once she and Prince Philip had received the shot.

Flash back more than six decades, to a time when the British government wanted members of the public to take another vaccine, and Elizabeth let it be known that Charles and his sister Anne had received shots to protect them against polio.

“As a result, public mood over the vaccine thawed and millions of others went on to take the drug, which the National Health Service said helped cases ‘fall dramatically,'” the Daily Express reported recently.

No formality here 

Zara and Mike Tindall attend the 2019 Magic Millions official draw at Surfers Paradise Foreshore on Jan. 8, 2019 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

When it comes time to declare another royal baby is on the way, the general modus operandi is a formal announcement from Buckingham Palace.

So it caught people’s attention and spawned headlines the other day when Mike Tindall, husband of the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall, shared news via his sports podcast that they are expecting another child.

“Had a little scan last week, third Tindall on its way,” the former rugby player told the 150,000 weekly listeners of The Good, the Bad & the Rugby podcast. 

“Z is very good … obviously always careful because of things that have happened in the past. But so far, so good. Fingers crossed. I’d like a boy this time. I’ve got two girls, I would like a boy. I will love it whether it’s a boy or a girl, but please be a boy,” he said, holding up those crossed fingers and waving  in the podcast video.

“Things that have happened in the past” refers to two miscarriages Zara had between the birth of their elder daughter Mia, 6, and younger daughter, Lena, 2.

Zara Tindall and daughter Mia Tindall pose with Mike Tindall after he finished a quadrathlon on July 11, 2015, in Aberfeldy, Scotland. (Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

According to The Telegraph, the announcement was very much in keeping with the couple’s casual, down-to-earth manner, and their “reputation as the Royal Family’s most relatable couple.”

The baby will be the Queen’s 10th great-grandchild, and is the second royal birth expected in 2021. Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, are also expecting a child in the new year.

Royally quotable

“You just disappeared, all of you.”    

— Queen Elizabeth takes a technical glitch in stride during a virtual meeting with staff at the accounting giant KPMG, as it marked its 150th anniversary. The pandemic has led to numerous online firsts for the Queen, as she carries out duties remotely. Last week, she conducted her first diplomatic audience via a video call.

Queen Elizabeth speaks with, top row from left, Cheryl Valentine and John McCalla-Leacy, and bottom row from left, David McIntosh, Bill Michael and Jennifer Lee, during a virtual visit with KPMG staff to mark the firm’s 150th anniversary. (Royal Communications/The Associated Press)

Royal reads

  1. A three-day rail tour through the U.K. by William and Kate to meet and thank front-line pandemic workers ran into a lukewarm welcome in Scotland and Wales. [The Guardian]

  2. Harry and Meghan will host and produce podcasts as part of a deal the couple, now living in California, have made with the streaming service Spotify. [BBC]

  3. Netflix says it has “no plans” to include a disclaimer with The Crown to make it clear that the award-winning drama about Queen Elizabeth’s reign is a work of fiction. [Los Angeles Times]

  4. Christmas means Christmas cards, often including a happy family photo from the past year. For their 2020 festive mailing, Charles and Camilla are relaxing in their garden at their home in Scotland, while William and Kate are all smiles with their kids at their country home northeast of London. [BBC]


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