11 Holiday Traditions Celebrated by Royal Families Around the World
Royals, they're just like us! That's especially true when it comes to the holiday season. Queen Elizabeth and her royal cohort enjoy a fair amount of festivities and jolly-ole-fun during this time of year. Some of the celebrations are just like you'd imagine—a glittering castle, decked out with fresh holly, dozens of trees and other boughs of festive florals, where the nobility are all seated for a 12-course holiday feast featuring all the classics (served on fine china, no doubt). But more often than not, the Windsor family chooses to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve just like any other family would—by spending time together on a family vacation away from home.
In the case of the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, the two have been making annual holiday pilgrimages to the Sandringham Estate, where Queen Elizabeth first brought them as small children. According to the family's official website, everyone in the family—the Queen included—focus on quality family fun, including pick-up games of charades and soccer; there are also formal dinners and royal tea times, too.
But the Windsors aren't the only royal family that celebrates the holiday season together; there are royal families across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East that traditionally attend galas, parades, and other public celebrations as a group. In Jordan, one of Queen Rania and King Abdullah's most important holidays involves a serious bout of gardening. In Monaco, royals are continuing an act of kindness that was first inspired by Her Royal Highness Princess Grace Kelly back in the late 1950s.
Follow along as we share more traditions that royals around the world honor each holiday season.
The British Royal Family
What exactly does one royal buy another for Christmas? It turns out that the Windsors' idea of a Christmas "gift" would probably leave many of us feeling robbed; according to the Mirror, the Queen's grandchildren and their spouses generally exchange cheap "gag" gifts with each other every year. She could be in on it, too, since the family's website details how the Queen doesn't stick her Christmas gifts under one of the many royal fir trees at Sandigrahm; the entire royal family politely passes each other's gifts while sitting in the estate's formal dining room for a British tea service on Christmas Eve. On Christmas day, however, the entire family heads to St. Mary Magdalene Church for an early morning service, a more formal tradition that Queen Victoria celebrated herself centuries ago.
Before the Queen leaves for the Sandringham Estate with her children and grandchildren, she hosts an annual luncheon at Buckingham Palace with her extended family. Both her grandsons and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, as well as the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, were present at last year's luncheon for the first time. Don't fret if you didn't score an invitation, however; there's still a chance you can see how the Queen decorates the palace for Christmas. "Every year since 1952, the Queen has given an annual Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth, in which she reflects on the past year and looks ahead to the future," per the royal family's official website. "Since 1952, the broadcast has been televised, and the whole royal family is said to watch it together on Christmas Day."
The Monégasque Royal Family
As the reigning head of the House of Grimaldi, Prince Albert II is the official sovereign of the small city-state on the Côte d'Azur, surrounded by southern France. He and his wife, Her Royal Highness Princess Charlene, host Christmas celebrations within the stunning Prince's Palace of Monaco every year—which, coincidentally, is open to the public in the fall. Alongside their two children, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella, the royal couple hosts an annual gift-giving extravaganza at the palace, where Monaco's children and families are invited to celebrate yuletide glee. People reports that Prince Albert actually dresses up as Santa while he hands out gifts. This annual tradition is almost 60 years old; per People, it began when Princess Grace Kelly insisted upon meeting children in Monaco firsthand. "It's Grace's legacy," one Monégasque citizen tells People. "No one enjoys it more, though, than Prince Albert."
The Grand Ducal Family of Luxembourg
Another precious gem of European culture, Luxembourg has been historically governed by the Grand Ducal Family; currently, Grand Duke Henri and spouse Grand Duchess Maria Teresa are the nation's reigning royalty. Luxembourg's royal family is rather large: Here's Prince Guillaume who is married to Princess Stephanie; Prince Felix and Princess Claire, who have two children; Princess Alexandra, the royal couple's only daughter; Prince Louis, a father of two; and the youngest, Prince Sébastien. The Grand Duke addresses every family in Luxembourg by television on Christmas Eve. Most of the family will attend Noel church services at the Notré-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg City annually. According to the Grand Ducal Family's Instagram, this royal family has a longstanding tradition of gifting each other traditional wrapped gifts each and every year.
The Royal House of the Netherlands
King Willem Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, have nearly completed a decade at the helm of the Netherlands' monarchy. Their home at Huis ten Bosch Palace in The Hague has been the official residence of the royal family since 1981—but the king and queen will often vacation away from the picturesque setting with their daughters for the holidays. Here, the royal duo is pictured with their three daughters Princess Alexia, Princess Catharina-Amalia, and Princess Ariane, as the Dutch royal family celebrated a warmer Christmas in the heart of Argentina in 2012.
The Belgian Monarchy
Ascending to the throne in 2013, King Philippe has honored many of the Belgian monarchy's traditions in his time as king. The king and his wife, Queen Mathilde, play host to an important cultural event at the Royal Palace when the Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides put on a holiday gala concert in December. Here, the king and queen attend the concert held in the palace's grand ballroom with their children, Princess Elisabeth, Prince Gabriel, Princess Eleonore, and Prince Emmanuel—Belgians are also treated to the concert via a live broadcast on national channels.
The Swedish Royal Court
The holiday season is very special for King Carl Gustaf of Sweden: His wife, Queen Silvia, celebrates her birthday just before Christmas Eve on December 23. In addition to fabulous birthday parties leading up to Christmas, the Swedish royal family gets in the holiday mood by baking holiday sweets or decorating trees together. Crown Princess Victoria and her husband, Prince Daniel, often take to social media to wish Swedes happy holidays—Prince Oscar and Princess Estelle, royal grandchildren to the king, stole the show last year with a sweet Christmas carol.
The Kingdom of Spain
Does your family send Christmas cards each year? The royals do, too. King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain create beautiful Christmas cards each year with their daughters, Princess Leonor and Princess Sofia. They often choose to showcase Spain's beauty in their correspondence; last year, the family visited Asturias for the first time, and shared a snapshot of the journey on their official Christmas card. After the New Year, many of the family members in the House of Bourbon-Anjou come together to celebrate Epiphany on January 5, which is also the birthday of former King Juan Carlos.
The Imperial Family of Japan
Led by Emperor Naruhito, who recently succeeded to the Chrysanthemum Throne in the spring of 2019, Japan's first family is known for following many ancient cultural traditions. The family—which includes Crown Princess Masako, Prince Hisahito, Prince Akishino, Princess Mako, Princess Aiko, Princess Kako, and Princess Kiko, as well as former rulers Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko—honors a major New Year's tradition in the country by opening the gates at the Imperial Palace every year. According to The Imperial Household Agency's website, the Emperor and Empress celebrate New Year's Day with the entire royal family by holding court in their palace; they'll first receive state government officials as guests, who ceremoniously pass their wishes for good fortune onto the entire family one by one. But the real party doesn't begin until January 2, when the Japanese public is invited onto the palace's grounds; thousands of people travel from all over the country to hear the Emperor speak about the upcoming year.
The Danish Royal Family
After addressing the nation via a live telecast on New Year's Eve, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark throws a masked ball at the Palace at Amalienborg in Copenhagen for all of the royal family to enjoy. The next day, alongside future-king Crown Prince Frederik and his brother Prince Joachim, the queen hosts public meet and greets with government officials and, in some cases, first responders at the palace.
The Royal Hashemite Court of Jordan
One of the largest holidays for Jordanites is the end of Ramadan, also known as Eid al-Fitr—but one annual holiday tradition that even the royal family can't help but jump in on often takes place just after New Year's Day. King Abdullah and Queen Rania have routinely partaken in tree-planting ceremonies on Arbor Day, which is a largely international holiday where people all over the world turn to the environment. Often accompanied by their four children, King Abdullah and Queen Rania will invite guests of honor to celebrate this unique holiday with them every year by asking them to assist in planting new trees in Jordan.
The Wangchuck Dynasty of Bhutan
While some celebrate January 1 in Bhutan, most look forward to what's known as "Nyilo" or the winter's solstice on January 2, and it's one of the Himalayan nation's most important public holidays. Children are central to this holiday, where people often wish each other good fortune in the upcoming year, as it's believed that their innocent good wishes bring the most luck to others. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wanghuck and his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema, participate in the nation's festivities much like others do: Welcoming visiting children to their home, allowing them to sing ancient verses as part of the holiday's tradition. According to the royal family's Facebook page, the children are gifted necessary pantry staples like butter, rice, wheat, and salt as thank you for performing for their neighbors and others in the community. Given that the heir to the throne is also quite young, Bhutan's three-year-old Dragon Prince, we're sure there's plenty of singing in the palace this time of year.