10 Royal Family Holiday Traditions You Might Want to Steal Yourself

Their family time at Christmas and Easter isn't as lavish as you might expect.

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royal family - Signing Christmas cards
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Signing Christmas cards (really) early

Like a lot of families, the Windsors like to include a family photo with their season’s greetings—and a bonafide signature from Queen Elizabeth II herself. Politicians and heads of state will get cards signed “Elizabeth R.” (for “regina,” the Latin word for “queen”), while friends will see “Elizabeth,” and her cousins will receive her nickname “Lilibet.” With a whopping 800 cards to mail out, though, the Queen won’t wait until the last minute to work on them. She spends part of her summer holiday in Balmoral signing cards so she doesn’t need to worry about them in the crazy days leading up to Christmas, according to PopSugar.

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royal family - Organic plums
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Accepting BYO whatever

The royals might have their own chefs, but that doesn’t mean they won’t offer a little something for the meal. Prince Charles used to bring a pile of organic food at Christmastime, including plums grown on his estate, former royal chef Darren McGrady told People. Others would bring their own china to eat on. “I had to make sure it went on the right plate,” says McGrady. “The Queen Mum’s was a pattern she had at home and she wanted it for her breakfast. They like the continuity.”

Find out the two rules you must follow if you eat dinner with the Queen.

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royal family - Christmas gifts
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Keeping gifts light

Instead of stressing over finding a thoughtful, best-they-can-afford gift, the royal family tradition is to keep things light on Christmas. They shun expensive gifts in favour of silly ones, but are careful to avoid any gifts that send the wrong message. “The crazier and the more quirky is what they love,” former royal chef Darren McGrady told People. “It’s not about something really amazing or a Cartier watch.” For instance, Prince Harry once gave Queen Elizabeth a shower cap that said “Ain’t life a b*tch” on it, and Kate Middleton reportedly gave her brother-in-law a “Grow Your Own Girlfriend” kit back in 2001 (though to be fair, she also gave him Gucci loafers because “all his shoes have holes in them”).

Here’s what Queen Elizabeth gives her staff at Christmas.

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royal family - Soccer ball on field in winter
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Playing a Christmas Eve soccer match

For 10 years, Prince William and Prince Harry faced off in a soccer match with friends and staff from Sandringham, an estate in Norfolk, England, where their family spends the holidays. In 2015, they broke tradition by playing on the same side, but neither showed up in 2016—likely because their cousin had gone through a miscarriage hours before.

Here are 50 more little-known facts about the British royal family.

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royal family - Jigsaw puzzle pieces
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Taking it easy

Like anyone else, British royals like to take a breather on Christmas. After the Queen’s Christmas address, the family will do jigsaw puzzles or exercise on the 20,000-acre estate together. Later, they’ll sometimes gather in the ballroom, where a movie is projected onto a pull-down wall that acts as a screen.

Get to know the various hobbies of the British royal family.

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Christmas decorations
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Keeping the festivities going

Sure, maybe you’ve heard that leaving your holiday decorations up past the first week of January is a major holiday decorating mistake. But rules were made to be broken, and the Queen knows it. To honour her father, who passed away at Sandringham on February 6, 1952, she and Prince Philip stuck around long after the rest of the family has moved on. Before Prince Philip passed away, the couple stayed in the estate and kept the Christmas decorations up until the second week of February.

Here are more rules Queen Elizabeth II has broken during her reign.

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Interior of small church
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Going to church

On Christmas morning, the royal family actually attends two church services. First, Her Majesty receives communion privately from her own chaplain, according to Express. Then, the rest of the family walks to St. Mary Magdalene Church for a public service while the Queen follows in a Bentley. Those who have stuck around for New Year’s also attend a service at Sandringham on New Year’s Day. In the spring, they’ll hold an Easter service in Windsor Castle.

Don’t miss this gallery of vintage photos of Elizabeth before she became Queen.

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Windsor Castle
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Accepting gifts

During the Easter service, the doors of Windsor Castle are open for locals. After the service, local children present Her Majesty with a bouquet of flowers.

Find out 17 secrets most people don’t know about Windsor Castle.

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Easter eggs and flowers
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Showing generosity

The Queen might receive flowers on Easter, but she likes to give, too. (Not surprising from a woman who wears neon outfits for this heartwarming reason.) Since King Charles II in 1662, the British Crown has given out specially minted “Maundy money” coins on Maundy Thursday, which falls three days before Easter. Her Majesty now visits a different town each year and hands out coins to people (usually elderly) who have contributed to their communities or church. The coins are worth about 5 cents.

These are the 13 foods Queen Elizabeth II eats every day.

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Birthday cake with candles
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Celebrating two birthdays

While birthdays aren’t exactly holidays, we sure like to treat them like it. How would you feel if you got to celebrate your big day twice a year? If you’re a British royal, you can. Ever since 1748, monarchs have let their actual birthdays go by and celebrated on a warm summer Saturday instead. For instance, Queen Elizabeth II was actually born April 21, but she typically holds her Trooping the Colour birthday parade on the second Saturday in June.

Next, find out more fascinating facts most people don’t know about the Queen.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest