The royal family’s Christmas has been a focal point of Britain’s celebrations for decades, from their walk to church to Queen Elizabeth II‘s annual speech.
But Christmas Day can be a controversial time as royal relationships are thrown into the public spotlight.
1952—The Queen’s First Christmas Speech
Queen Elizabeth II gave her first Christmas speech, broadcast on December 25, 1952, in the aftermath of the death of her father King George VI that February.
The monarch, now 95, was yet to have her coronation, which took place in June 1953, at Westminster Abbey.
For many heads of state, the moment they take office is one purely of celebration but for Elizabeth it was one also of grief for her father, who died young at 56.
The queen, then aged 26, said in her speech: “Each Christmas, at this time, my beloved father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world. Today I am doing this to you, who are now my people.”
She ended: “You will be keeping it as a holiday; but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you, all the days of my life.”
1994—Princess Diana, Prince Charles and an Eyebrow-Raising Biography
Princess Diana’s traumatic experiences in the heart of the royal family have been well documented across both fact and fiction.
One detail seldom told is about how involved she remained in palace life after the marriage had already broken down.
Pablo Larraín biopic Spencer, for example, is set over a Sandringham royal family Christmas and purports to tell the story of Diana deciding she no longer wanted to be a royal, riding off into the sunset (or to KFC) with her children, Prince Harry and Prince William in 1991.
In reality, she remained a feature of the royal family Christmas even after she separated from Charles in 1992.
One such Christmas was in 1994, just a month after publication of a bombshell biography of Prince Charles, written by journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, based on private conversations with the future king.
The 620-page tome, titled The Prince of Wales: A Biography, said both Charles and Diana had affairs, accused Prince Philip of making his eldest child cry with bullying banter and painted the queen as a cold and distant mother.
Needless to say, Charles and Diana were photographed standing within touching distance of each other at the annual Sandringham church service.
2017—Meghan Markle’s First Royal Christmas and Comments on Her Curtsy
Meghan Markle was whisked into the royal family’s traditional Christmas just a month after her engagement announcement, in November 2017.
The future Duchess of Sussex had just moved to Britain ahead of her wedding in May the following year and the event was among her first for the British public.
While there were no signs of the tensions that would later flare between Harry, Meghan and the royals, she was criticized for the way she curtseyed to the queen.
Grant Harrold, a former royal butler, went on Good Morning Britain to tell the presenters what she should have done.
He said: “What you should be doing, for a lady, is the right foot behind the left, and then it is a gentle bob.
“You keep the hands in because you’re not a penguin.”
2018—Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton’s Show of Christmas Unity
By the time Christmas 2018 came around tensions within the younger generation of the royal family had flared.
Publicly, newspapers had run stories accusing her of making Kate cry, of being difficult to work for and being at the center of a tense conversation between Harry and the queen over her wedding day tiara.
There had been rumors in the British media that Harry and Meghan would not be at Sandringham that year but they did go and the two sisters-in-law put on a show of unity amid the speculation.
2019—Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Transatlantic Exit Negotiations
In 2019, Prince Harry and Meghan did not attend the royal family’s Christmas having left Britain for Canada that November.
Even in their absence, though, there was high drama over the festive period as the couple attempted to negotiate their way out of their royal duties.
It was during this period that Harry would later tell Oprah Winfrey his father stopped taking his calls.
Christmas Day itself was also a focal point for the deep divide between the Sussexes and the royals, according to biography Finding Freedom.
The queen had not included a photo of the young family on her desk in her Christmas broadcast, where a picture of Prince William’s family stood alongside one of Prince Charles and Camilla and another of Prince Philip.
Biographers Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand wrote: “Harry felt as though he and Meghan had long been sidelined by the institution and were not a fundamental part of its future. One didn’t have to look further than the family photos displayed during the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day.
“In the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, where the Queen delivered her address, viewers glimpsed photos of the Cambridges and their children, Charles and Camilla, Prince Philip, and a black-and-white image of the sovereign’s father, King George VI.
“Noticeably absent was a photo of Harry, Meghan and their new baby Archie.
“Palace sources insisted that the photos were chosen to represent the direct line of succession, but for Harry and Meghan, it was yet another sign that they needed consider their own path.”
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