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What the world's royals get up to at Christmas

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·9-min read

Watch: The Royal Family at Christmas

Every family has their own Christmas traditions, and royal families are no different.

Festive traditions vary from country to country and royals can often find themselves following a mix of rituals that have stemmed from many different parts of the world.

The British Royal Family has Germanic elements in its Christmas Day celebrations, while the Norwegian royals have adopted habits from Denmark.

Yahoo UK looks at the traditions royal families around the world follow at Christmastime.

Swedish Royal Family

The Crown Princess, Victoria and her husband Prince Daniel, often release videos of showing them preparing for the holidays with traditional activities.

In 2018, they shared a video of them making Christingles with their children, Estelle and Oscar, and taking part in other festive crafts.

Back in 2014, they shared a video with their daughter as they made Christmas cookies.

This year, they released a video to mark the first week of advent, with Oscar donning a gingerbread man onesie, and Estelle wearing a dark velvet dress, with her hair in plaits.

BORGHOLM, SWEDEN - JULY 14: Crown Princess Victoria and her family attend The Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden's 42nd birthday celebrations on July 14, 2019 at Solliden Palace in Borgholm, Oland, Sweden. (Photo by Julia Reinhart/Getty Images)
Crown Princess Victoria and her family attend The Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden's 42nd birthday celebrations in 2019. (Julia Reinhart/Getty Images)

According to Royal Central, the whole Swedish Royal Family gather on Christmas Eve at King Carl Gustaf’s home where they have a traditional dinner.

Just like the British Queen, the Swedish King broadcasts a Christmas message on 25 December and reflects on the year.

Danish Royal Family

The royal family in Denmark release information about how they’ll spend Christmas each year.

In 2020, they ended up changing their plans with just over a week to go until the big day.

A statement shared online read: “Her Majesty The Queen will celebrate Christmas Eve at Marselisborg Palace together with Their Royal Highnesses Prince Joachim and Princess Marie and their two children, Prince Henrik and Princess Athena, as well as Prince Nikolai and Prince Felix.

“The original plan was that Her Majesty would celebrate Christmas Eve at Schackenborg Palace, but the holiday will instead be celebrated in Aarhus, where The Queen traditionally resides during the Christmas period.

“The Crown Prince Family will still celebrate Christmas Eve in Frederik VIII’s Palace at Amalienborg.”

Queen Margrethe (c) of Denmark, with (L-R) Crown Prince Frederik, Princess Isabella, Crown Princess Mary, Prince Vincent (hidden behind bars), Prince Christian, Prince Nikolai (blue jacket), Prince Felix (brown jacket), Prince Henrik (dark blue jacket), Princess Athena, Prince Joachim and Princess Josephine in 2015. (Niels Ahlmann Olesen/AFP via Getty Images)
Queen Margrethe (c) of Denmark, with (L-R) Crown Prince Frederik, Princess Isabella, Crown Princess Mary, Prince Vincent (hidden behind bars), Prince Christian, Prince Nikolai (blue jacket), Prince Felix (brown jacket), Prince Henrik (dark blue jacket), Princess Athena, Prince Joachim and Princess Josephine in 2015. (Niels Ahlmann Olesen/AFP via Getty Images)

The change meant they actually decided against changing the tradition, previously explaining “it has been a tradition in the royal family to celebrate the major holidays at Marselisborg Palace in Aarhus”.

Last year, Queen Margrethe arrived there on 20 December and “celebrated the holiday together with the Crown Prince family as well as Prince Joachim and Princess Marie and their children”.

According to Hello!, there are celebrations starting from 23 December, when the tree is decorated and presents wrapped.

Then on Christmas Eve, the children leave out a bowl of rice porridge for Santa’s helpers and the family sit down to a meal together, usually roast goose or duck.

According to the Danish tourism board website, the country virtually shuts down for about five hours on Christmas Eve to allow everyone to enjoy dinner with their families.

Presents are unwrapped on 24 December.

Danish Crown Princess Mary unvails this year's Christmas stamp at Julemaerkehjemmet Liljeborg in Roskilde, Denmark, on October 26, 2020. - Every year since 1904, the Christmas Stamp Foundation has published the special Christmas Stamp, which aims to raise money for children at one of Denmark's five Christmas Stamp Homes. At home, 1, 000 children a year can stay and receive help in combating loneliness, bullying, social isolation and obesity. (Photo by Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP) / Denmark OUT (Photo by MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
Danish Crown Princess Mary unveiled this year's Christmas stamp in Roskilde, in October 2020. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP)

On 25 and 26 December, people usually visit other family members who they weren’t able to see on Christmas Eve. The traditional lunch over those days is herring in curry and apple porridge with pork.

Queen Margrethe’s speech is broadcast on New Year’s Eve.

A message from the family on 17 December 2020 added: “The planned New Year’s levee at Christiansborg Palace on 4 January 2021 for the prime minister and certain other representatives of official Denmark is cancelled. Instead, Her Majesty The Queen will receive written New Year’s greetings from the levee participants.”

The Danish tourism website explained: “All of Denmark tunes in to hear its monarch's statement about the year that has passed and the challenges of the year ahead.

“The New Year's Speech has been a national rallying point since 1942, when the much-admired King Christian X offered hope and encouragement to a country in the grip of a German occupation.”

The Danish royal family is quite international - as Crown Princess Mary is Australian. They take their children to Australia roughly every other year, to see the other side of their family.

Spanish Royal Family

The Spanish Royal Family will delight with a new Christmas card featuring a photo of the family in the run up to the big day.

Like other European nations, festivities start on Christmas Eve, and that’s when the King’s Christmas speech is aired on television.

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 12: This handout image provided by the Spanish Royal Household shows the inside of the Royal Christmas Card featuring a photograph Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia on December 12, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household via Getty Images)
The inside of the Spanish Royals Christmas Card featuring a photograph Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia. (Casa de S.M. el Rey Spanish Royal Household via Getty Images)

After the speech, they have a family dinner and they attend church later that evening.

According to nineHoney, the family are likely to have seafood for their Christmas Day lunch, which will also be at the main palace in Madrid.

In Spanish tradition, there is as much focus on Epiphany, on 6 January, as there is on Christmas Day. Epiphany marks the arrival of the Wise Men to Bethlehem to meet Jesus.

There are Epiphany eve celebrations, including gifts and a special treat of a roscon - a brioche-style cake with candied fruit and cream.

Belgian Royal Family

Traditions in Belgium are similar to those in Spain, with a concert held on Christmas Eve, and the King’s speech broadcast.

King Phillippe arguably has the most work because he records the speech in three languages - French, Dutch and German.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - DECEMBER 18: (L-R) Prince Gabriel, Princess Eleonore, Queen Mathilde, King Philippe of Belgium, Princess Elisabeth and Prince Emmanuel attend the Christmas Concert at the Royal Palace on December 18, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Olivier Matthys/Getty Images)
Prince Gabriel, Princess Eleonore, Queen Mathilde, King Philippe of Belgium, Princess Elisabeth and Prince Emmanuel at the Christmas Concert in 2019. (Olivier Matthys/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on December 18, 2019, King Philippe of Belgium gestures as he delivers his yearly Christmas message at The Royal Palace in Brussels. (Photo by Francisco SECO / various sources / AFP) / Belgium OUT (Photo by FRANCISCO SECO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
King Philippe of Belgium giving his yearly Christmas message at The Royal Palace in Brussels. (Francisco Seco/AFP)

It reflects the spread of languages spoken around the nation.

The family releases a Christmas card in the lead up to the big day and they share pictures of the huge royal Christmas tree outside the palace in Brussels.

Dutch Royal Family

Traditions in the Netherlands start early as Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) arrives on 5 December to give children their presents.

But there are two opportunities for gifts, as the Dutch also believe Santa Claus comes from Lapland on Christmas Eve to deliver more presents.

VILLA LA ANGOSTURA, ARGENTINA - DECEMBER 23:  Prince Willem Alexander of Netherlands and Princess Maxima of Netherlands pose with their daughters Princess Alexia of Netherlands, Princess Catharina-Amalia of Netherlands and Princess Ariane of Netherlands pose as the Dutch Royal family celebrate Christmas on December 23, 2012 in Villa la Angostura, Argentina. (Photo by Joaquin Salguero/Getty Images)
Prince Willem Alexander and Princess Maxima of Netherlands pose with their daughters Princess Alexia, Princess Catharina-Amalia and Princess Ariane in 2012 in Villa la Angostura, Argentina. (Joaquin Salguero/Getty Images)

The two sets of traditions work out well for the Dutch royals as Queen Maxima’s family lives in Argentina, so some years they split their time and spend Christmas there.

King Willem-Alexander pre-records a Christmas message, which means it doesn’t matter where he is physically on the day itself.

The message is broadcast at 1pm on 25 December.

They also often release a new photograph of the family ahead of Christmas Day.

Norwegian Royal Family

The Norwegian royals help the British continue an important tradition, as every year Norway sends over a Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square.

The huge tree is a gift to say thank you for British help in World War Two.

Some years a member of the Norwegian royal family will go to London to light the tree and give a speech.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: An evening view of The Christmas Tree and Christmas Crib Nativity Scene in Trafalgar Square on December 10, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)
The Christmas Tree is a gift from Norway each year. Seen here with the Christmas Crib Nativity Scene in Trafalgar Square in 2020. (Jo Hale/Getty Images)

According to Royal Central, there are a blend of traditions through Norway, starting with what’s eaten on Christmas Eve, which varies from ribs to lamb or cod, in different parts of the country.

However the royals have adopted the Danish tradition and have pork.

The royal family spends Christmas at the Royal Lodge Kongsseteren, or ‘King’s Villa’, which is just outside Oslo. It was a gift from the Norwegian people after they voted for their new king in 1905.

A competition was held to decide which architect should design the lodge, and more than half of the nation’s registered architects entered a design.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit, King Harald, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, Queen Sonja and Prince Sverre Magnus pose for a picture next to the Christmas tree at the Royal Palace in Oslo on December 16, 2019. - The royal couple will celebrate Christmas at Kongseter together with Princess Martha, while the Crown Prince couple will spend Christmas in Uvdal. (Photo by Lise Åserud / NTB Scanpix / AFP) / Norway OUT (Photo by LISE ASERUD/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
Crown Princess Mette-Marit, King Harald, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, Queen Sonja and Prince Sverre Magnus at the Royal Palace in Oslo in December 2019. (Lise Åserud/NTB Scanpix/AFP)
King Harald, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, Prince Sverre Magnus and Queen Sonja admire the gingerbread house made by the children from the Fridheim kindergarden in Oslo, at the Royal Palace in Oslo on December 16, 2019. - The royal couple will celebrate Christmas at Kongseter together with Princess Martha, while the Crown Prince couple will spend Christmas in Uvdal. (Photo by Lise Åserud / NTB Scanpix / AFP) / Norway OUT (Photo by LISE ASERUD/NTB Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
King Harald, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Crown Prince Haakon, Prince Sverre Magnus and Queen Sonja admire the gingerbread house made by the children from the Fridheim kindergarden in Oslo in 2019. (Lise Åserud/NTB Scanpix/AFP)

The royals gather for a family photo about a week before Christmas at one of the palaces.

They also send a thank you message in the new year for the Christmas wishes they received.

The royals invite the government to a Christmas lunch in the family dining room each year. The room seats about 30 guests, so it’s not a large affair.

Monaco’s Royal Family

The royal family of Monaco have many traditions that Britons will recognise, particularly when they open their presents.

According to Princess Charlene, the children leave treats out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve (and for his reindeer) and count down the days before he comes down the chimney.

MONACO, MONACO - DECEMBER 18: Princess Charlene of Monaco and  Prince Albert II of Monaco attend the Christmas Gifts Distribution At Monaco Palace on December 18, 2019 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Princess Charlene of Monaco and Prince Albert II of Monaco at the Christmas Gifts Distribution at Monaco Palace in December 2019. (Stephane Cardinale - Corbis)
MONACO, MONACO - DECEMBER 18:  Camille Gottlieb, Princess Charlene of Monaco, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Louis Ducruet attend the Christmas Gifts Distribution At Monaco Palace on December 18, 2019 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Camille Gottlieb, Princess Charlene of Monaco, Prince Albert II of Monaco and Louis Ducruet at the annual tradition in 2019, with the children who received gifts. (Stephane Cardinale - Corbis)

The family gathers around the tree on Christmas Day morning to open presents.

They go to mass at the Palatine Chapel before having a large family meal together.

The evening includes lots of snacking, TV and playing with presents, she said.

Before the quiet family Christmas though, there is a sweet tradition called the Christmas Gifts Distribution party.

Started by Princess Grace (the actor Grace Kelly), the royals invite about 600 children to the palace where they each receive a gift and are entertained by circus performers, dancers and Santa Claus.

People reported in 2015 that the gifts are painstakingly researched for each child before they turn up to the party, so they get something unique and special to them.

The children also enjoy a mug of hot chocolate made by the palace chefs, one of whom, told People: “The secret of the palace’s famous Christmas hot chocolate is certainly the quality of the whole fat milk provided by the Roc Agel dairy cows, and to that I add a good dark chocolate mix.”

Watch: Here's what the royals have been up to during the 2020 pandemic