A royal Christmas in England’s Norfolk

Sandringham House is where the royal family spends Christmas. | Dennis Lennox.

Forget about Christmas with your in-laws or that second cousin once removed. Instead, celebrate the birth of our Lord the way Queen Elizabeth II does every year.

That could be your experience if you head to Norfolk, an English county that is to the royals what Hyannis Port is to the Kennedy family. Here it is possible to celebrate how the royals do at Sandringham House.

The royal residence isn’t open during the holidays, but the public does have access to the grounds when services are held at St. Mary Magdalene Church.

The Church of England parish church, renowned for its interior, is where the royal family celebrates major occasions, including Christmas Day, when they traditionally attend mattins or morning prayer at 11 a.m. An earlier service of holy communion occurs at 8:30 a.m. Both rites come from the timeless Anglican liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. 

Sandringham itself isn’t as palatial as Holkham Hall, the seat of the Earl of Leicester.

Christmas decorations are set out in the private chapel at Holkham Hall. | Holkham Estate

Unlike Sandringham, Holkham offers private tours when the house is closed to the general public. Inside, one finds paintings by Rubens, van Dyck, Canaletto and others. There are also Roman sculptures that were acquired by past earls during their grand tours of the European continent.

Rivaling the museum-quality collection is the estate’s 3,000 acres of rolling parkland with numerous trails for walking and cycling. Best of all, access is free of charge — an unprecedented level of access that leaves one feeling like Holkham Hall is theirs and not the earl’s.

Christmas activities include a service with carols at the Church of St. Withburga on Dec. 19 at 11 a.m. The church was effectively rebuilt in the 19th century, although a church has stood at this spot since ancient times. Holkham Hall also has a spectacular private chapel that serves as the parish church during winter months, when St. Withburga is generally not used for worship.

Also worth seeing are Blickling Hall and Felbrigg Hall, two 17th century stately homes under the care of the National Trust. Unfortunately, interior access can be limited in the offseason.

If you go

Stay at Congham Hall, a classic English country house hotel, or the Victoria Inn at Holkham. If rooms aren’t available, book a room at St. Jude’s B&B by Sandringham.

Flights into Norwich International Airport, the closest airport, are limited and require a connection in Amsterdam on KLM. The best option is flying into London Heathrow and renting a car.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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