It’s officially Christmas at the castle!
St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle – which hosted two royal weddings, that of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank, this year at the nearby St. George’s Chapel – has been decked out for the holidays. And of course, the tree is fit for a queen.
A 20-ft Nordmann Fir tree from Windsor Great Park, Prince Philip‘s go-to spot for carriage driving, stands tall at the end of the hall. Decorators had to use ladders to cover the tree in gold trimmings as well as crown ornaments – tiny replicas of the Imperial State Crown, which Queen Elizabeth wore for her 1953 coronation as well as the Opening of Parliament Ceremony every year.
“You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up. Because if you did, your neck would break — it would fall off,” the monarch said in the documentary The Coronation of the 3-lb. headpiece. “So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”
While it is often said that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, introduced the idea of having an evergreen tree as a centerpiece of the royal holiday celebrations, the practice had actually existed in the royal household for around 80 years. George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, was raised in Germany (like Albert) — where they would “deck a single yew bough” with decorations and gather around it to exchange gifts. At Windsor, she “transformed the ritual into a festive spectacle that could be enjoyed not only by family and friends but by the wider court,” author Louise Cooling writes.
Each year, the royal family joins Queen Elizabeth at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, England, for Christmas celebrations. Guests usually arrive in the early afternoon, with tea and snacks served in the White Drawing Room at 4 p.m.
The next stop is the red Drawing Room, where the staff has already laid out the presents on trestle tables for each family member. (The family opens their presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day.) In lieu of expensive gifts, the royals exchange silly presents. (Kate Middleton reportedly gave brother-in-law Harry a plastic Grow Your Own Girlfriend kit one Christmas — something he won’t be needing now with wife Meghan by his side!)
On Christmas morning, the royal family makes their way for Christmas services at St. Mary Magdalene church. Each year, hundreds of well-wishers gather to see the royals on their annual march to church.
After church, the royal family heads back to Sandringham House for a lunch of Norfolk turkey and other festivities. The head chef, accompanied by some of his team, carve the first of two 25-lb. turkeys at the buffet in the dining room, with the Queen first in line.