Their absence is unusual but not unprecedented.
Today, Queen Elizabeth welcomes her extended family to Buckingham Palace for her annual Christmas lunch. The occasion is a rare moment for her clan to come together, much the way they gather every June for Trooping the Colour, the official celebration of the Queen’s birthday. This event, however, is private, a true family reunion and not a ceremonial occasion.
All the Queen’s children are there (including Prince Andrew, who last month stepped back from his public duties following enormous public criticism of his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein), along with several of her grandchildren.
There is a notable absence, however: The queen’s grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle are not attending this year. They have been on a six-week break from royal duties since just before Thanksgiving, which they reportedly spent with Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland in California. It was baby Archie’s first trip to the US.
Their break for some “much-needed family time,” came after a busy fall that included a royal tour of Africa, the launch of Meghan’s Smart Set collection for her patronage of Smart Works, and the announcement that the couple plans to take legal action against several publications. They also both reportedly worked a good deal behind the scenes this summer when Meghan was on maternity leave following Archie’s birth.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were at the Queen’s lunch last year, their first Christmas season as a married couple. They then spent Christmas day with the Queen at Sandringham, as did Prince William and Kate Middleton and their family. (Harry and Meghan also spent Christmas 2017 in Sandringham, several months before their wedding. That’s noteworthy because significant others are not usually included until they are officially married.)
The family of three will spend Christmas 2019 elsewhere however. “The Duke and Duchess are looking forward to extended family time towards the end of this month,” a spokesperson said last month. “Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, their Royal Highnesses will spend the holidays this year, as a new family, with the Duchess’ mother Doria Ragland.”
While it is somewhat unusual to skip the Queen’s Christmas lunch, there is precedent for skipping the holiday at Sandringham. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for example, have previously spent the holiday with her family, the Middletons, in Bucklebury in 2012 and 2016. The spokesperson took pains to point out that “This decision is in line with precedent set previously by other members of the royal family, and has the support of Her Majesty the Queen.”
That last mention is noteworthy in part because Prince Harry and Meghan came under some tabloid fire earlier this year for not visiting the Queen in Scotland over the summer. The Queen, of course, has not commented on any of this.