The royal family is known for having certain customs when it comes to their Christmas celebrations. It seems that they are going against tradition in 2018, however. A few weeks before the big holiday, you see, reports emerged that the Queen had extended a surprising invitation to Meghan Markle’s mother.
It’s obviously been a busy year for Meghan and Prince Harry. For starters, they married at Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018. Then the newlyweds announced in October that a new baby ‒ their first ‒ will arrive in the spring of 2019. “Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public,” Kensington Palace said in a statement. And now the couple are preparing for a very special Christmas.
But it’s worth offering a brief background on Meghan first. So, for those who don’t know, she was born in California ‒ Los Angeles, to be exact ‒ in August of 1981. Her mom, Doria Ragland, was a yoga teacher and social worker. Her father, Thomas Markle, was a lighting director and director of photography on shows such as Married… With Children. However, when the future royal was six, her parents got a divorce.
That didn’t stop Meghan being successful, though. In fact, the 37-year-old got her big break in the acting industry after landing the role of Rachel Zane on legal drama Suits. And it was during Meghan’s time on the show that she met Harry after a shared friend set them up. The couple then began dating in June 2016, and their relationship became public knowledge three months later.
Throughout it all, Meghan has remained close to her mother, who affectionately called her daughter “Flower.” And the duchess even admitted in a piece for Glamour magazine that Ragland’s social work has inspired her. “For me to watch this level of life-long sensitivity to nurturing and care-giving, but at the same time my mom has always been a free spirit,” she wrote.
The star continued, “She’s got dreadlocks and a nose ring. She just ran the L.A. Marathon. We can just have so much fun together, and yet I’ll still find so much solace in her support. That duality coexists the same way it would in a best friend.”
After over a year of dating, Harry and Meghan confirmed their engagement in November 2017. And just one month later, the duchess spent Christmas with the royal family. Traditionally, members of the monarchy travel to the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk each year for the celebrations.
So Meghan attended the annual Christmas Day church service that the royal family goes to at St. Mary Magdalene Church. This was a move that broke protocol, though, as partners of members of the monarchy are usually not invited to the celebrations until they are married. In fact, Kate Middleton did not spend Christmas with the royals until after her wedding in April 2011.
Then, two weeks before Harry and Meghan tied the knot, Kensington Palace announced that “both of the bride’s parents will have important roles in the wedding.” The statement read, “On the morning of the wedding, Ms. Ragland will travel with Ms. Markle by car to Windsor Castle. Mr. Markle will walk his daughter down the aisle of St. George’s Chapel.”
However, things soon went awry when it surfaced that the 37-year-old’s father had allegedly staged paparazzi photos. Thomas Markle then claimed that he needed heart surgery and would be in hospital at the time of the wedding. So with the nuptials just two days away, Meghan confirmed that her father would no longer be attending.
That meant that Ragland was the only member of Meghan’s family at the royal wedding. So the night before, mother and daughter arrived at Cliveden House hotel, where they stayed together ahead of the ceremony. And she accompanied Meghan to St. George’s Chapel on the day of the wedding too.
So although Ragland lives in L.A. and Meghan now resides at Kensington Palace in London, it’s clear that the duchess’ mom still plays an important role in Meghan’s life. For instance, Meghan’s first individual charity venture as a royal was helping to create a recipe book to support victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. And at the launch of Together: Our Community Cookbook in September 2018, Ragland was by her daughter’s side.
And now it looks like Ragland has also been accepted into the royal fold. A few weeks before Christmas 2018, after all, reports surfaced about an unusual invitation the Queen had apparently extended.
According to the Sunday Express, the monarch has actually invited Meghan’s mother to spend Christmas with the royal family at Sandringham. A source reportedly told the publication that it was “a very thoughtful gesture” from the Queen. And it’s also one that is unprecedented.
It has certainly been noted that Kate Middleton’s relatives have never received the same invitation. For although members of her family have previously accompanied the royals to their Christmas Day church service, they stayed close by at Anmer Hall, Kate and William’s home. This move therefore is seen as a sign that the Queen considers Meghan to be a valued member of the family.
The Sunday Express also pointed out that Meghan does not have any relatives that live in the United Kingdom. And with a baby on the way, this could be a way to make her feel even more comfortable and at home there. “It’s a mark of the Queen’s respect for Meghan and an acknowledgement that she doesn’t have any other relations in this country – unlike Kate who has the support of a very close family,” explained the source.
As of November 2018, though, Buckingham Palace had not commented on the claims. But if Ragland does end up spending the holiday with the royals, she has a rich history of traditions to look forward to. On Christmas Eve, for example, afternoon tea and a formal dinner take place. And as part of the festivities, Harry and William often participate in a charity soccer match.
Before retiring to bed, too, the family will exchange gifts. However, there are reportedly strict rules about what they are allowed to give one another. The presents must apparently be inexpensive, and the royals are believed to usually purchase novelty or gag gifts.
Then, on Christmas Day, the family will have breakfast, attend the church service and go on a countryside walk. They’ll spend the afternoon enjoying a turkey lunch, playing games and, of course, watching the Queen’s yearly address on television. With so many traditions in place, then, some people were against the idea of the monarch breaking protocol and inviting Ragland.
However, others supported the decision and pointed out that it was a kind act on the Queen’s part. “Unlike the Middletons, who are a larger family, Meghan and Doria only have each other so it’s the right thing to do. Well done, Queenie,” one commenter wrote. Another agreed, “Queen Elizabeth is a gracious and compassionate lady. Long may she reign.”
So, what else goes on behind Buckingham Palace’s doors at Christmastime? As you’d expect, it seems that the monarchy relies heavily on tradition – but those customs aren’t necessarily what you may assume. For a start, there’s the issue of gifts. After all, what do you buy for a member of the royal family, who presumably has access to any item that a person could conceivably want?
Well, the royals actually apparently buy one another ridiculous gag gifts as a tradition. Diana once allegedly bought Sarah Ferguson a leopard-print bath mat, for instance. And reportedly back when Harry was single, Kate gifted him a “Grow Your Own Girlfriend Kit.” Oh, to be a fly on that wall.
Though Harry apparently dishes out his own joke gifts too, of course. According to royal biographer Brian Hoey, the prince once gifted his grandmother – the Queen, one of the most respected and popular public figures in the world – a shower cap reading “Ain’t Life A B****.” And she reportedly liked it!
Other royal Christmas traditions are likely considerably more formal and highbrow, however. And they involve that old royal custom: rank. When guests arrive at Sandringham, for instance, they are apparently supposed to do so according to their “place” within the family. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles supposedly come last, which doesn’t sound like a recipe for harmony.
Yet somehow the royals must make it work – even though Christmas at the palace is probably very complex. New guests apparently even get given maps and timetables so they don’t get lost. And it’s supposedly an absolute necessity to bring several changes of clothes along.
In 2017 How to Dress Like a Princess author Claudia Joseph explained it all to Vogue. “For lunch on Christmas Eve, the men wear suits and the women wear smart silk dresses, but they change into black [ties] and glamorous gowns for dinner,” she said. “It’s the one time the women wear their most expensive jewelry and almost all wear tiaras.”
But there are allegedly rules about tiaras too. You’re reportedly only supposed to wear one if you’re a married woman. And although tiaras are so beautiful most people would want to wear them as much as possible, royals are apparently only supposed to wear them from 6:00 p.m. onwards.
And Christmas Day is an extremely busy affair as well. First, the royals get dressed up in nice outfits to walk to St Mary Magdalene Church for the morning Christmas service. Other than the Queen, of course, who drives there. So if you want to spot a royal at Christmas, that church is the place to be.
Then comes the Christmas dinner, which is supposedly a huge feast. The Queen reportedly gets served before anyone else, naturally. “The head chef, accompanied by some of his team, carve the first of two 25-pound turkeys at the buffet in the dining room, with the Queen first in line,” royal commentator Robert Jobson told Vogue in December 2017.
“There is also a buffet of foie gras, boar’s head, venison and salmon trout. Once everyone has sat down with their meat, the butlers will come around with their Brussels sprouts with fresh roasted chestnut and roast potatoes,” Jobson added to Vogue. “Dessert is two Christmas puddings and brandy sauce, mince pies and hard butter.”
Luckily, the staff reportedly aren’t forgotten during the festive dinner. “At the end of the carving, it’s the one time of the year that [the Queen] would give the head chef a drink, and he will toast the family with ‘Happy Christmas,’” Jobson continued. And if you happen to work at the palace, you will apparently get Christmas gifts too.
The royal family website states, “All members of the royal household will receive Christmas presents from the Queen, and Her Majesty will personally hand out presents to some members of The Royal Household at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle.” So it does pay to work as a royal employee!
The royal website has more to say on the subject too. “Continuing the tradition from her father, King George VI, and her grandfather, George V, the Queen also gives Christmas puddings to her staff. About 1,500 Christmas puddings paid for by the Queen… are distributed to staff throughout the palaces, staff in the Court Post Office and Palace police.”
All the puddings are also sent with Christmas cards from the Queen. In fact, sending out cards appears to be a pretty big part of a royal Christmas. The Queen and Prince Philip, for instance, post about 750 of them each year, with their official cyphers attached. Prime Ministers, politicians and members of the royal household all get one. Prince Charles and Camilla also do a similar thing.
And of course, each Christmas the Queen delivers a speech to her subjects on television. This is a tradition with a long history behind it. In 1932 the Queen’s grandfather, King George V, delivered the very first Royal Christmas Message via radio. Her father, King George VI, took over after that and then it became her responsibility.
The Queen’s speech is broadcast to several countries on Christmas Day, and millions of viewers tune into it. In the Queen’s Jubilee year in 2012, it was even broadcast in 3D, which would likely have been beyond the wildest dreams of George V.
In fact, the royals themselves all settle down to watch the Queen’s speech together. And it’s reportedly a solemn occasion: no jokes are allowed. But after that, things do seemingly get more relaxed. The family even apparently retires to a drawing room, where they do jigsaw puzzles.
And of course, the royals are free to admire the Christmas decorations that adorn the palace. For the 2018 festive period, for instance, a 30-foot Christmas tree was erected on the lawn of Kensington Palace. Nearby Buckingham Palace likewise went all-out with the trees, with no less than three of them going on display in the Marble Hall.
“The custom of displaying Christmas trees was introduced to Britain in the late 18th [century] by Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, although it was a yew tree rather than a fir that was used,” the royal family announced on Instagram in December 2018. “The Christmas tree was popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the 19th century.”
So it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who are widely credited with advancing one of the longest-lasting Christmas traditions. And the act of putting up a tree at Christmas extends far beyond just the royal family, of course. Albert is also credited as having introduced the idea of presenting gingerbread as a Christmas gift.
So there you have a royal Christmas. It seems like a truly incredible occasion, full of nods to British history. And next year there will be even more people to celebrate it, as Meghan gives birth to her and Harry’s first child in 2019. Hopefully, the new generation of royal children will pass the old traditions down as well.