This year marked 11 years since the Princess of Wales’ first Christmas at Sandringham—where the royal family traditionally celebrates the holiday—after marking the occasion there for the first time in 2011, eight months after she married Prince William that April.
But anyone who knows the history of William and Kate knows that, by Christmas 2011, the pair had known one another for over a decade, and had been romantically involved for most of that time—making the fact that 2011 was her first Christmas at Sandringham even more surprising.
According to The Daily Express, William invited Kate to the festivities as far back as 2006, when the couple had been together for roughly four years. In her book The Palace Papers, Tina Brown writes “before graduation [from The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst], William had issued his girlfriend the coveted invitation to join him at the Queen’s annual Christmas house party at Sandringham. Kate, reflecting the confident mood of her Philip Treacy hat, maintained her resolve that she would not go to such a significant royal family gathering unless she had a ring on her finger. She declined. William met her decision with silence.”
Instead, the then 24-year-old “retreated to Scotland to stay with her parents, who had rented a house in Perthshire for the holidays.”
Additionally, that same year, writes Robert Lacey in his book Battle of Brothers, Kate also declined an invitation from Her late Majesty to celebrate Christmas together at her traditional Christmas lunch—the first-ever invitation the late Queen had extended to William’s girlfriend of four years. But just like with William’s invitation, Kate declined, saying “she would go to Sandringham on Christmas Day only when she was engaged and had a ring to prove it,” Lacey writes.
Love this confidence from the future Princess, although it would be five more years before Kate would finally join the royal family at Sandringham. William and Kate briefly split in 2007, before reuniting within months and later getting engaged in 2010. For her first Christmas at Sandringham in 2011, Kate recalled in a 2016 ITV documentary Our Queen at 90 “I can remember being at Sandringham for the first time at Christmas. And I was worried what to give the Queen as her Christmas present. I was thinking ‘Gosh, what should I give her?’ I thought ‘I’ll make her something.’ Which could have gone horribly wrong. But I decided to make my granny’s recipe of chutney. I was slightly worried about it, but I noticed the next day that it was on the table. I think such a simple gesture went such a long way for me, and I’ve noticed since she’s done that on lots of occasions and I think it just shows her thoughtfulness, really, and her care in looking after everybody.”
With the exception of 2020 and 2021—when the Christmas festivities at Sandringham were cancelled because of the pandemic—William and Kate have spent both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the royal family at Sandringham. From 2011 to 2016, the couple alternated between spending Christmas with the royal family and with Kate’s family, the Middletons, in Berkshire. Royal expert Katie Nicholl tells OK that Kate’s willingness to spend Christmas at Sandringham instead of with her own family is a “sacrifice” because “Christmas is a very big thing for the Middleton family.”
Nicholl adds “but they put the Queen first and make sure that they are there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Sandringham,” saying that the Prince and Princess of Wales “put duty before self, and we can see that, more now than ever.”
This Christmas, of course, was the royal family’s first without their beloved matriarch, who died at 96 this past September.