21 December 2011

Royal Christmases

As Kate Middleton spends her first Christmas as a full-blown royal (see my article with 5 tips for her survival), here's a look at some royal Christmas traditions.

The Christmas Tree
The presence of a tree in nearly every British, Australian and American home is due to the influence of one single royal: Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, who brought the evergreen tree tradition to England with him from his native Germany. Illustrations of his royal Christmas tree started appearing in magazines and newspapers in 1841. Within a few years, dragging a tree into the house, lighting it with candles and hanging baubles on it had become all the rage. Just think, without Prince Albert's influence, there would be no Charlie Brown Christmas tree and no giant trees at Rockefeller Center in New York and Victoria Square in Adelaide. Not to mention, the contribution Albert made to what is now a multibillion dollar industry.

Live to the Commonwealth
A more recent royal tradition in Britain is the monarch's Christmas day broadcast. The tradition started when the current queen's grandfather, King George V, began making radio broadcasts in 1932. Although there have been three monarchs since then, only two others have participated--the queen's uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in early December 1936 after less than a year as king, so he never made the address. The queen has delivered a radio or television address every year since her accession, except 1969, when the palace thought the release of the documentary, "The Royal Family," had provided enough exposure for the year. Public outcry, however, caused the queen to announce that the annual tradition would return the following year. The address has sometimes been issued live, but more commonly, it is pre-recorded. It is first broadcast at 3 p.m. GMT on Christmas Day. Since 2006, it has also been available via podcast.

For more about the British Monarchy at Christmas, visit the official site.

Sinterklaas and Zwart Piet
In The Netherlands, children celebrate Christmas with Sinterklaas and Zwart Piet, or Santa Claus and Black Peter. For the Dutch royal family, the arrival of that illustrious pair was become an annual outing. On December 5, the Prince of Orange and Princess Maxima take their three adorable litte girls to join the hordes of happy youngsters as they welcome Santa and Peter to town. See photos from this year's event. The pair arrives, having traveled all the way from Madrid and bringing candy for all the little ones who come to their parade--even little princesses.

Christmas Cards in Spain
Although Christmas cards are sent around the world, we don't always get to see what royal families send out, except in Spain. We occasionally get to see a few cards elsewhere, but the Spanish royal family always releases the cards from all four of their "families": the King and Queen, the Prince and Princess of the Asturias, Infanta Elena, and Infanta Cristina. Another nice touch is that the publicly released cards show the handwritten note and all of the individuals signatures. Most of the time the images on the cards are family photos or at least, pics of the kids. However, the King and Queen will often select artwork. This year's cards are notable because it is the first time that the youngest infanta, four-year-old Sofia, signed the card all by herself. (Click to see this year's cards.)

Family Photos in Belgium
Like many families, the crown princely couple of Belgium uses Christmas as an opportunity to take new family photos. With four young children, it is probably quite a task to get everyone dressed in matching outfits that aren't too matchy-matchy, but they always pull it off with aplomb. In addition to the family portrait, they also take pictures of each of the children. This year's set of photos does a particularly good job of highlighting each child's individual personality. (See this year's photos.)

Family Videos
The Norwegian royal family takes it a couple of steps further; the ladies at least usually dress in bunad (the traditional Norwegian costume) AND they release a video with the photos. Over the years, we have seen Queen Sonja reading to her grandchildren and little Princess Ingrid Alexandra and Prince Sverre Magnus making cookies. (See this year's photo and video.)

A Musical Christmas
As an extension of their tenth anniversary celebrations, the Crown Prince and Princess of Norway this year launched what may become an annual tradition. They and the king and queen hosted a performance for 200 young people who are associated with charities sponsored by the Crown Princess's foundation, which was established when she married Crown Prince Haakon. Nine Norwegian artists performed on the concert, which was broadcast across the country. The same musicians have also created a benefit Christmas album.


  1. While Christmas trees were popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (they were a young family, thus the nation of families followed their example more than Victoria's predecessors), Albert's was not the first royal Christmas tree in England. George III's consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and William IV's consort, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, both brought Christmas trees to the royal courts.

    Foreign consorts have brought several Christmas traditions to the UK, many of which are still observed by today's Royal Family. However, not all become part of society. Example, Queen Alexandra brought the tradition of opening gifts on Christmas Eve and spending Christmas Day in church, which is still observed by the family. However, not part of society.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing the celebrations of other European families. :)

  2. Thanks for the fantastic comment, Matthew. I made a small edit to clarify that Albert's was not the first one in England. Cheers!

  3. I love the tradition of the Christmas tree, and look forward to dressing it eagerly every year. This year, instead of setting up a large tree our two rambunctious new kittens would surely climb, shred to bits and likely topple over, we chose a very small tree that just fits on our kitchen table. We can still have our evergreen and lights, in a wonderfully compact form! Long live the Royals, the traditions and light they bring into our lives and Merry Christmas to all this happy night!