Christmas may still be a way off, but no matter the time of year, it’s fascinating to find out about the holiday traditions of the royal family. They actually have strict regulations during the festive season – but when they exchange presents with one another, those rules don’t necessarily apply.
Meghan Markle, the newest member of the bunch, was in 2017 faced with the unenviable task of buying appropriate gifts for all of her soon-to-be in-laws. And that included her groom-to-be’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II – perhaps the hardest person in the world to buy a Christmas present for.
A royal Christmas celebration is no casual event; in fact, they’re each extremely regimented affairs. Reportedly, guests attending the palace parties are given schedules and room maps so that they always know where they’re meant to be and when. They even have to arrive in order of rank, which adds a whole new level of complication to proceedings.
Then there are the dresses. “The family comes down for breakfast dressed in their church outfits – usually a day dress or a smart suit with pearls for the women,” royal biographer Claudia Joseph told Vogue in December 2017. “For lunch on Christmas Eve, the men wear suits, and the women wear smart silk dresses, but they change into black tie and glamorous gowns for dinner.”
For her first royal Christmas, Meghan probably brought several suitcases into the palace with her. She would’ve needed them. “The royal family does enjoy dressing up during the festive holiday,” Joseph explained to Vogue. “[Meghan would] need everything from evening gowns, day dresses and smart suits to casual wear for the Boxing Day shoot.” She would probably have had to change at least five times just for Christmas Day, then!
But ordinarily Meghan might not have been able to attend a royal Christmas celebration at all. Usually, the rule for royal family events is “no ring, no bring” – meaning that unless you’re actually married to a royal, you can’t come. Before she wed Prince William in 2011, Kate Middleton wasn’t invited to spend Christmas with the Queen. Neither was former England rugby player Mike Tindall after his engagement to Zara Phillips.
Yet the rules were bent for Meghan. Yes, Harry apparently requested that his grandmother make this a special case, and it seems she agreed. It did make sense, though, because Meghan’s biological family were across the pond in America at the time. And it would also have potentially been a PR nightmare if she hadn’t been invited; after all, Meghan was and is very popular with fans of the royal family.
Royal expert Richard Fitzwilliams explained the situation to the Daily Mirror in December 2017. “Harry and Meghan will be living together at Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace, and her family are in the United States,” he said. “The monarchy relies heavily on precedent and tradition, but it also makes its own.”
It’s not actually all that surprising that the Queen made an exception for Meghan, though. After all, the two women apparently get along very well. In the post-engagement interview that Harry and Meghan gave to the BBC on the day their engagement was announced, Meghan described Her Royal Highness as “an incredible woman” and talked about the “deep understanding” she has for her.
Harry, meanwhile, was quick to point out that the Queen’s beloved corgi dogs liked Meghan instantly as well. “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at. This one walks in, absolutely nothing…” he joked, gleefully. Meghan also revealed that the corgis ended up lying on her feet, wagging their tails, during tea. “It was very sweet,” she said.
Meghan was, then, popular with all of the most important royals – and their furry friends – right from the beginning. But there was one aspect of the Christmas celebrations that she may well have been very nervous about: the gift-giving. Buying presents for regular in-laws is tricky enough, but it’s surely way worse when your fiancé’s grandmother is the head of an entire country. So what did she choose?
Well, Meghan reportedly gave the queen of the United Kingdom – wait for it – a singing toy hamster. No, really. “Meghan bought a little hamster that sings with a little rope for Her Majesty,” an anonymous source told the Daily Star in January 2018. In case you weren’t aware, singing toy hamsters vary in price, although it’s unlikely Meghan paid much money for one.
In any case, the Queen apparently loved it – and so did the corgis. “It was so funny, especially when the corgis tried to take hold of the toy,” the Daily Star’s source said. “She laughed and said, ‘They can keep my dogs company!’” Meghan, meanwhile, may well have breathed a sigh of relief. Still, sometimes, it seems, funny and silly is the way to go at Christmas.
In fact, despite all the pageantry present at royal Christmases, the royals are reportedly actually extremely fond of silly gifts. Back in 2013 it was reported that Harry once presented his grandmother with an “Ain’t life a bitch” shower cap for Christmas. Her expression upon seeing the gift is sadly unrecorded, but what a moment that must have been.
And Meghan had a gift for Prince William – heir to the throne of Great Britain – as well. According to the Daily Star’s insider, she gave him a Scottish hat that just so happened to have fake hair included with it. Joking about the future king’s receding hairline could’ve gotten you a meeting with the executioner a few hundred years ago. But, thank goodness, William apparently thought it was hilarious.
Yes, Meghan made a good first impression. We’ll probably never know what the rest of her royal Christmas was like – those details are among the many that the royal family keep under wraps – although the whole country got to see her make an appearance at St. Mary Magdalene Church for the Christmas service attended by the royals.
It was the first time that all four of the younger royals – Prince William, Kate Middleton, Harry and Meghan – had ever been seen together in public. Being who she is, Meghan was probably expected to dazzle people with her choice of outfit, building on the foundations that she’d already built for herself as a potential fashion icon. And she didn’t disappoint.
She wore a Sentaler coat, Birks earrings shaped like snowflakes – appropriate to the season – plus a red velvet Club Monaco dress, boots from Stuart Weitzman and a magnificent hat. It was an incredibly expensive outfit, then, but that didn’t stop fashionistas from rushing out to find it. Indeed, before long, the handsome coat was gone from stores.
The hat arguably drew the most attention, however – with some actually considering it a rare fashion mishap for Meghan. It was created by Philip Treacy, who designed many of the hats that guests were seen wearing at Kate and William’s 2011 wedding. A few jokes were made at Meghan’s expense, though, with an online comedian comparing it to a certain “poop” emoji.
Yet if that was the only foot Meghan put wrong during the whole event, her first royal Christmas can surely be counted as having been a huge success. And the next time she joins the royals for holiday gift-giving, she’ll be a fully fledged member of the family. Yes, she’s of course set to marry Prince Harry on May 19, 2018, at Windsor Castle in London.
Now it’s traditional for the Queen to give a present to the happy couple at royal weddings. Not the usual offerings like toasters or gift vouchers, though; in fact, she’s reportedly bestowing two new titles upon the spouses-to-be. Harry and Meghan will become the duke and duchess of somewhere, most likely Sussex, and the count and countess of a Scottish province, too. Still, maybe she’ll throw a singing hamster in there as well. We can only hope.