The Queen and Royal Family at Sandringham on Christmas Day over the years

The Queen and members of the Royal Family prepare to brave the elements after the Christmas morning

The Queen and members of the Royal Family including the late Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales, prepare to brave the elements after the Christmas morning service at Sandringham, December 1990. - Credit: Archant

For three decades,  unique Royal event saw comings and goings at a tiny Norfolk church broadcast to millions around the world.

Christmas Day will be the first in more than 30 years when the Queen and her family have not attended morning service at Sandringham.

The Princess of Wales (left) at Sandringham with Prince William and Harry and the Princess Royal (ri

Diana, Princess of Wales (left) at Sandringham with Princes William and Harry and the Princess Royal (right) on Christmas Day 1992 - Credit: Archant

They began spending their Christmas break in Norfolk in 1988 when Windsor Castle was being re-wired and the tradition would have continued this year had coronavirus not intervened.

For most years, the day was the only one all year when the entire Royal Family could be seen together. The Royal Christmas would begin with the Queen travelling to Norfolk some days before December 25, to oversee preparations including choosing a tree from her saw mill.

The Royal Family attend Sandringham Church on Christmas Day 2013 - Prince Harry and Prince William m

Prince Harry and Prince William chat to well-wishers after the Christmas Day service in 2013 - Credit: Matthew Usher

Family members would arrive at Sandringham on Christmas Eve. Presents would be laid out on trestle table and opened that evening in a nod t he royals' German ancestry.


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Instead of lavish gifts, they would try to outdo each other buy seeing who could buy the tackiest present.

The Duke & Dutchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry & Meghan Markle wish farewell to the queen after Chri

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after the Christmas Day service in 2017 - Credit: Paul John Bayfield

The following morning, just before 11am, family members would set off to walk the half mile or so from Sandringham House to the nearby church, while the Queen would be driven in her Bentley.

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Over the decades it grew into a major public event, with thousands cramming into the field beside the church to see the royals.

ROYAL FAMILYROYAL FAMILY AT SANDRINGHAM SERVICECHRISTMAS DAYDECEMBER 1988PRINT C2126NEG A2

The Queen, Princess Diana and a young Prince William at Sandringham church in 1988 - the first Christmas the Royal Famil had spent in Norfolk in modern times - Credit: Archant

After the service, family members would chat to well-wishers, while until recent years children would queue with cards and flowers for the Queen.

ROYAL FAMILYPRINCESS DIANA VISIT TO SANDRINGHAM CHRISTMAS DAY SERVICEDECEMBER 1990PRINT C2008

Diana, Princess of Wales is greeted by well-wishers after the Christmas Day service in 1990 - Credit: Archant

Both the usual gathering of around 30 family members would not be possible this year because of Covid - let alone a large  crowd.

ROYAL FAMILYPRINCESS DIANA AND DUCHESS OF YORK AT SANDRINGHAMCHRISTMAS DAY 1988PRINT C2001NE

Sarah Ferguson, then the Duchess of York (left) and Princess Diana at Sandringham in1988 - Credit: Archant

So the Queen and Prince Philip are spending Christmas at Windsor Castle, while other family members are remaining at their homes.

Royal Family - Royal Group ShotsFor years the arrival of the Royal Family at King's Lynn stati

The Queen arrives at King's Lynn station in 1966 with her corgis and a young Prince Edward - Credit: Archant

Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their three children are reported to have travelled to Anmer Hall, their Norfolk retreat, some days before the latest lockdown measures were announced. 

The Royal Family leave Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church 2017 - Paul John Bayfield

The Queen and her family leave Christmas Morning Service at Sandringham Church in 2017 - Credit: Paul John Bayfield

The Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne walking to Christmas Day morning service at Sandringham. Pic

The Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Royal walking to church in 2015 - Credit: Ian Burt


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