It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the royal family is planning their traditional celebration at Sandringham. This year, all eyes are on the latest addition to the royal family: Meghan Markle.
Harry, 33, and Markle, 36, are expected to stay with Prince William and Princess Kate, both 35, at their Anmer Hall home during the three-day-long celebration. William recently gave Santa Claus a Christmas list from his 4-year-old son, Prince George, with a request for a police car and a note that he’d been "nice" this year.
Markle and Harry will be invited to the festivities watching George and his 2-year-old sister, Princess Charlotte, who love the Christmas holiday.
On Christmas Eve, the Royal Family heads to Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth’s 20,000-acre estate in Norfolk where they open gifts in the German tradition the night before.
Expensive gifts are frowned upon. Rather, members of the family will often swap funny gifts. Kate reportedly made homemade jam one year as gifts for her royal relatives.
Also on Christmas Eve, some members of the royal family take part in an annual festive soccer match with workers and locals in the area. William and Harry usually play on opposite teams. They did not join in last year, but Harry and James Middleton, Kate's brother, joined for the game at Castle Rising on a pitch near Lord Grenville Howard’s 12th-century estate. Kate's brother filled in for William, who had injured his ankle.
On Christmas Day, the royal family make the 300-yard walk to St. Mary Magdalene Church, where Princess Charlotte was christened in 2015.
The small stone church dating back to the 16th century sees Queen Elizabeth every Sunday when she’s in residence at Sandringham. Prince Philip typically takes the brisk walk with the rest of the members of the royal family while the Queen arrives in her chauffeured car from Sandringham.
Following the service, the royal family greets well-wishers outside the church on Christmas Day before heading back to Sandringham for Christmas lunch. Lunch is traditional with local Norfolk roast turkey from the region, a salad with shrimp or lobster and vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, carrots and parsnips.
After lunch, the entire family sits down to watch the Queen's annual televised Christmas message.
In the evening, the royal family gathers again for a Christmas buffet dinner with 15 to 20 different delicacies prepared by Queen Elizabeth’s chef. A toast is part of the meal, which ranges from roast beef to turkey and ham. In past years, William and Kate have sometimes opted out of the Christmas dinner so they can enjoy Christmas evening with Kate's parents, Carole and Mike Middleton, her sister, Pippa Middleton, her brother-in-law, James Matthews, and her brother, James Middleton, with whom she is very close.
The Sunday Times of London has reported the Queen will break royal convention and invite Markle to the entire three-day celebration at Sandringham.
Neither Kate nor Mike Tindall, who married Zara Phillips, the Queen's granddaughter and Princess Anne’s daughter, were invited when they were engaged but not yet married at Christmas. Kate spent Christmas with her family in Bucklebury, Berkshire, before she married William.
However, if Queen Elizabeth adheres to past royal protocol, Markle may not attend. The monarch is religious and may decide that attendance at the church service is reserved for her grandchildren and their spouses only, as she has done in the past.
There could be a compromise where Markle attends lunch and dinner celebrations at Sandringham but not church. Harry's relatives have welcomed Markle into the fold and are keen to make her feel part of the family.
Markle called Queen Elizabeth "an incredible woman" in her first joint interview with Harry after their engagement announcement last month.
"It's incredible I think, to be able to meet her through his lens, not just with the honor and respect he has for her as the monarch but the love that he has for her as his grandmother," Markle said. "All of those layers have been so important for me so that when I met her, I had such a deep understanding, and of course incredible respect, for being able to have that time with her."
"And the corgis took to her straight away!" added Harry with a smile, referring to Queen Elizabeth's beloved dogs.
On Dec. 26, the royal family enjoys a traditional pheasant shoot at Sandringham. Royal girlfriends have been included in the past.
After Christmas, Markle and Harry are expected to take a holiday. Kensington Palace has confirmed Markle will take some time off before the wedding to see her friends and family in the U.S.
The couple are starting to slowly make plans for their May 2018 wedding at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, with planning expected to really pick up in the New Year.
Kensington Palace also announced that Markle will join the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry once she weds Harry. She will give up her charitable work with World Vision and as a United Nations advocate for women to focus on the U.K. charities that William, Kate and Harry support.