How Princess Diana Accidentally Broke Tradition During Her First Royal Christmas

The newlywed princess didn't know about one of the royal family's longstanding traditions.

Every family has its own take on holiday traditions. Maybe your family cooks potato pancakes for Hanukkah or eats fish on Christmas Eve or breaks into the eggnog long before the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s Eve.

For someone who’s new to the family, though, that first holiday season—before you’ve clued in to your new clan’s particular traditions and idiosyncrasies—can be a challenge. Being royalty doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Such was the case with Princess Diana during her first Christmas after marrying Prince Charles in 1981.


Each year, the royal family gathers on Christmas Eve at Sandringham Estate, Queen Elizabeth’s country home, the Daily Mail reports. Family members sneak down to place their gifts on tables in the red drawing room. Then the festivities kick off at 6 p.m. sharp. The only rule? The gifts must be funny. Find out why the royal family doesn’t open their gifts on Christmas Day.

“Resident jokester Prince Philip ‘supervises the proceedings’ and tells the rest of the fam when it’s time to open their ‘cheap and cheerful’ gifts,” InStyle reports.

Particularly memorable presents over the years? The “Ain’t Life a B*tch” showercap that Harry gifted the Queen and the leather toilet seat Princess Anne bestowed upon Prince Charles—who likes it so much he reportedly uses it when he travels.

But as a newlywed in 1981, Princess Diana apparently didn’t get the memo about the silly gifts. She played it safe that holiday season, giving Princess Anne a cashmere sweater. In return, her sister-in-law bestowed upon her a toilet paper cover. Don’t miss the 12 weirdest gifts the royal family has ever received.

By the next Christmas, however, Diana recovered resoundingly from her faux pas. Her gift to Duchess Fergie in 1982? A leopard-print bath mat.

Fortunately, both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle seem to have avoided that pitfall and were well-aware of the royal family’s penchant for gag gifts. Before Markle started dating Prince Harry, Kate gifted him a “grow-your-own-girlfriend” kit, the Daily Mail reports. Meghan also rose to the occasion during her first royal Christmas last year. She gave the Queen a singing hamster on a string—much to the delight of Her Majesty’s beloved corgis. Next, check out these 10 royal holiday traditions you might want to steal.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.