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10 Royal Family Holiday Traditions You Might Want to Steal Yourself

Their family time on Christmas, Easter, and more isn't as lavish as you'd expect.

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Signing Christmas cards (really) early

Like a lot of families, the Windsors like to include a family photo with their season’s greetings—and a bonafide signature from Queen Elizabeth herself. Politicians and heads of state will get cards signed “Elizabeth R.” (for “regina,” the Latin word for “queen”), while friends will see “Elizabeth,” and her cousins will receive her nickname “Lilibet.” With a whopping 800 cards to mail out, though, the Queen won’t wait until the last minute to work on them. She spends part of her summer holiday in Balmoral signing cards so she doesn’t need to worry about them in the crazy days leading up to Christmas, according to PopSugar. Here are 17 secrets the royal nanny won’t tell you.

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Accepting BYO whatever

The royals might have their own chefs, but that doesn’t mean they won’t offer a little something for the meal. Prince Charles used to bring a pile of organic food at Christmastime, including plums grown on his estate, former royal chef Darren McGrady told People. Others would bring their own china to eat on. “I had to make sure it went on the right plate,” says McGrady. “The Queen Mum’s was a pattern she had at home and she wanted it for her breakfast. They like the continuity.” Find out what the royal family eats on Christmas day from their personal chef.

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Keeping gifts light

Instead of stressing over finding a thoughtful, best-they-can-afford gift, the royal family tradition is to keep things light on Christmas. They shun expensive gifts in favor of silly ones, but are careful to avoid any gifts that send the wrong message. “The crazier and the more quirky is what they love,” former royal chef Darren McGrady told People. “It’s not about something really amazing or a Cartier watch.” For instance, Prince Harry once gave Queen Elizabeth a shower cap that said “Ain’t life a b*tch” on it, and Kate Middleton reportedly gave her brother-in-law a “Grow Your Own Girlfriend” kit in 2001 (though to be fair, she also gave him Gucci loafers because “all his shoes have holes in them”). Here’s how Princess Diana accidentally broke this tradition during her first year as a royal.

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Playing a Christmas Eve soccer match

For 10 years, Prince William and Prince Harry faced off in a soccer match with friends and staff from Sandringham, an estate in Norfolk, England, where their family spends the holidays. In 2015, they broke tradition by playing on the same side, but neither showed up in 2016—likely because their cousin had gone through a miscarriage hours before.

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Taking it easy

Like anyone else, British royals like to take a breather on Christmas. After the Queen’s Christmas address, the family will do jigsaw puzzles or exercise on the 20,000-acre estate together. Later, they’ll sometimes gather in the ballroom, where a movie is projected onto a pull-down wall that acts as a screen. These are the 15 most bizarre perks of the royal family.

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Keeping the festivities going

Sure, maybe you’ve heard that leaving your holiday decorations up past the first week of January is a major holiday decorating mistake. But rules were made to be broken, and the Queen knows it. To honor her father, who passed away at Sandringham on February 6, 1952, she and Prince Philip stick around long after the rest of the family has moved on. The couple stays in the estate and keeps the Christmas decorations up until the second week of February. Take a look at these rarely seen Christmas photos of the royal family.

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Going to church

On Christmas morning, the royal family actually attends two church services as part of their classic Christmas plans. First, Her Majesty receives communion privately from her own chaplain, according to Express. Then, the rest of the family walks to St. Mary Magdalene Church for a public service while the Queen follows in a Bentley. Those who have stuck around for New Year’s also attend a service at Sandringham on New Year’s Day. In the spring, they’ll hold an Easter service in Windsor Castle. Here are 10 of the most shocking royal feuds in history.

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Accepting gifts

During the Easter service, the doors of Windsor Castle are open for locals. After the service, local children present Her Majesty with a bouquet of flowers. Here are 21 candid, rarely seen photos of the royal family.

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Showing generosity

The Queen might receive flowers on Easter, but she likes to give, too. (Not surprising from a woman who wears neon outfits for this heartwarming reason.) Since King Charles II in 1662, the British Crown has given out specially minted “Maundy money” coins on Maundy Thursday, which falls three days before Easter. Her Majesty now visits a different town each year and hands out coins to people (usually elderly) who have contributed to their communities or church. The coins are worth about 1 to 5 cents. Here are the 18 etiquette rules all royals must follow.

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Celebrating two birthdays

While birthdays aren’t exactly holidays, we sure like to treat them like it. How would you feel if you got to celebrate your big day twice a year? If you’re a British royal, you can. Ever since 1748, monarchs have let their actual birthdays go by and celebrated on a warm summer Saturday instead. For instance, Queen Elizabeth II was actually born April 21, but she typically holds her Trooping the Colour birthday parade on the second Saturday in June. These are the 10 royal birthday traditions you didn’t know existed.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.