Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and Their Christmas Conundrum

Last Christmas Prince Harry and Meghan Markle hung with his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II; this year, to save them from additional drama, they're giving their time to her mom Doria Ragland.

By Sarah Grossbart Nov 21, 2019 11:00 AMTags

Think about the guilt trip levied upon you the first time you floated the idea of spending a holiday with your boyfriend's family. 

Now multiply that by, let's say, 327 and throw in opinions from millions of strangers and you can see why it's so impressive that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have stood their ground. Last Christmas, they gave their time to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II; this year, to save them from judgmental stares and 72 straight hours of pomp and circumstance, they'll give it to someone just as special. 

"Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, Their Royal Highnesses will spend the holiday this year, as a new family, with the Duchess' mother Doria Ragland," a spokesperson revealed last week of Harry and Meghan's plans for their first yuletide season with 7-month-old son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. "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." 

Royals Celebrate Christmas 2018

The widely speculated about move was a natural extension of the previously announced six-week sabbatical, the couple choosing to remain in Meghan's home country just a bit longer after their planned Thanksgiving stay so they could deck the halls and stuff stockings with Meghan's mother. 

"It has always been important to Meghan that Archie grows up aware of his American heritage and they plan to spend more time in the States as he grows up," a Meghan pal recently told Vanity Fair. "They've not had much time off and this feels like the right moment to take a proper break."

However, like most decisions the twosome has made in the year-and-a-half since their widely celebrated vows, there was, of course, some blowback. The main issue, it appears from all of the huffing and puffing coming from royal watchers is how their no-show might look. "Given that Harry and Meghan didn't go to Balmoral over the summer, it could be seen as another piece of evidence that they are going their own way," the Queen's biographer Sally Bedell Smith told Vanity Fair


Still, as the palace statement suggests, the move is hardly groundbreaking. Since their 2011 wedding, Prince William and Kate Middleton have alternated holidays at Sandringham with Christmas in Bucklebury where Prince George, 6, Princess Charlotte, 4, and now 20-month-old Prince Louis all get their own trees in her parents' stately seven-bedroom manor. 

And so it seems fair play that Meghan's kin earn a spot in the rotation, even if that means the Sussexes will be some 5,000 miles away rather than the handful of hours that separate the Middleton's Georgian-style spread from the Queen's winter home in Norfolk.  

"Christmas at Sandringham is a deeply embedded tradition in the royal family," Smith asserted to Vanity Fair, "but the Queen does sometime make allowances." In this situation, understanding that Meghan may want to spend her first Christmas as a mom with her own mother isn't all that different from when her majesty allowed Harry to bring his then-fiancée back in 2017, bending her previously held spouses-only rule. 

All of Meghan Markle's Outfits From the Royals' Africa Tour

As for the couple themselves, they have any number of reasons to seek out a sunny, California holiday. 

For starters, Christmas at Granny's is hardly a relaxed affair. From the moment they arrive and hand off the presents to the waiting valets (cleverly thought out gag gifts only, anything too expensive is shunned), they have to be on. Each of the three days' itineraries are filled to the brim with cocktail hours, multi-course meals, wardrobe changes and actual tea with the Queen. 

And while Harry raved that his bride-to-be aced her first Sandringham holiday in 2017—"I think we've got one of the biggest families that I know of and every family is complex as well. She's done an absolutely amazing job, she's getting there," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today program—perhaps she'd rather not juggle protocol with tending to an increasingly active 7-month-old. 

Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Then, of course there's the William problem. While the foursome's reunion at a U.K. Remembrance Day event Nov. 9 (and their matching social media trumpeting of Shout, a service that offers mental health support via text), suggests a thawing of sorts, the brothers' relationship is far from fully repaired—a situation that is unlikely to improve with three days in close quarters. 

At the Remembrance Day events, "everyone was doing their duties, doing what they needed to do on behalf of the family—and that was that," a source tells People. "But there is a divide between the four of them. It's hard for people to digest because everyone wants them to be such a unit." 

The fault lines have been forming for the past two years, with sources pointing to William's words of caution that his brother not rush into forever with Meghan too fast with creating the initial rift. Now as they work to repair the growing space between them—an issue Harry all but confirmed in their recent documentary, Harry and Meghan: An African Journey, telling pal Tom Bradby, "We're certainly on different paths at the moment but I'll always be there for him"—those close to them are thinking an absence letting the heart grow fonder strategy may just be the ticket. 

Is Prince Harry & Meghan Markle's Public Scrutiny Royally Unjust?

"Everyone is hoping that they will come back from this break stronger than ever," a friend tells People, "and maybe with some time out of the spotlight, they can figure out what path to take next."

Not to mention it's hard to blame Meghan from wanting to put some distance between her and the British tabloids she's actively suing for making merry with her family drama and apparently embellishing a tale or two. Why not stick around the States where they're generally adored as the forward-thinking, philanthropic power couple they are rather than putting herself out there for another season of having her every perceived misstep shamed? 

Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Meghan, as she admitted in their ITV doc, never imagined her new role would be quite so difficult, that her life as a duchess would be akin to leaving herself open for vicious attacks on everything from her work ethic to her ability to make nice with a new sister-in-law to how stressed she may or may not have become while putting together an event that could legitimately be called the wedding of the year. 

"Just on a human level, if you take everything else out of the equation," the friend tells People, "I don't think they're in very good shape to deal with anything right now." 

And then there's the fact that Meghan is a still-new, potentially still-nursing mom, who doubtlessly would be more comfortable, if not in her own place, then at least somewhere that feels like home. 

At her mom's or whatever secluded rental they find, the family can stay in their PJs all day if they'd like and not have to worry about sending Archie off to Sandringham's nursery until he can learn proper table manners. 

David Fisher/Shutterstock

"As it's Archie's first Christmas, they want it to be super special," an insider tells Us Weekly. "It'll be just Doria and the three of them. The drama surrounding the couple has caused a huge amount of stress. They're making their family their No. 1 priority right now." 

Once they're back in the UK, they can give their best wishes to Harry's grandparents, whom they see often, being neighbors and all. (At least when she's stationed at her Windsor Castle home—one of the Queen's six residences.) 

And if she's not objecting to their plans (even Smith allowed that the matriarch "is pretty tolerant and she may not begrudge them missing Christmas given Meghan's mother is in the States,") it's time for the rest of us to carry on as well.