It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Sandringham estate, where the royal family has already started their annual preparations for the holiday season.
Staff members are busily putting up the trees and adorning the great halls with festive decorations as the royal chef preps Queen Elizabeth II's favorite yuletide dessert, traditional Christmas pudding with dripping brandy sauce.
This year, the monarch has a few extra special helpers on-hand: Prince William and Kate Middleton's children, Prince George, 7, Princess Charlotte, 5, and 2-year-old Prince Louis are taking center stage and spreading some much-needed joy as they excitedly assist with tasks like tree-trimming, making holiday cards and baking duties.
"The kids are putting smiles on everyone's faces," says a source, noting that the Cambridges quarantined together before visiting the queen. "They wanted to make sure everyone was safe and that they wouldn't have to spend the whole season in masks," continues the source. "The queen couldn't be happier to have the children around. They are all delightful and engaging, and exactly what the family needs after a terribly challenging 2020."
The holiday merriment couldn't come at a better time. The past 11 months have been rife with drama at Buckingham Palace and beyond. In January, Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle unceremoniously announced they were abandoning their royal roles and later relocated to Los Angeles with their 18-month-old son, Archie, to start a new life.
All the while, Prince Andrew's underage sex scandal involving his late friend, pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, continued to dominate headlines. And in March, the coronavirus pandemic forced the queen into lockdown with her husband, Prince Philip, as Prince Charles and William became infected with Covid-19.
Notes the source, "The whole family has been rocked to its core." But things are looking up. George and Charlotte, along with little Louis, are taking their holiday responsibilities pretty seriously. "They've been helping their great-grandmother decorate Sandringham as well as her homes at Balmoral and Buckingham Palace," the source reveals, noting that Charlotte has taken the reins.
"She's picking out color schemes for the tinsel and fairy lights, putting ornaments on the Christmas trees and selecting all the songs for caroling." They're pitching in behind the scenes too, crafting holiday cards with William and Kate, both 38, and offering suggestions for the Christmas dinner menu.
They're especially hands-on in the kitchen, where they've been assisting Kate with baking cookies and mince pies. "Charlotte's enlisted Louis as her official assistant, having him fetch produce from the garden and passing her the whisks and butter," says the source. "Kate's quite impressed with her delegation skills!"
Like most kids, George, Charlotte and Louis are counting the days until Christmas arrives and have already written their letters to Santa. The plan is to spend the day at Sandringham with the queen and Philip, Charles and his wife Camilla, plus Princess Anne and Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, "assuming everyone has been quarantining," adds the source.
Typically, the royals eat a hearty breakfast together then walk to church before listening to the queen's annual speech. "The kids hang on every word," spills the source. "Later, they sing carols around the fireplace and sit on her knee and tell stories about what they're grateful for along with their hopes for the year ahead."
Boxing Day (December 26) is more relaxed — the adults will go hiking or hunting while the little ones enjoy hide-and-seek and board games. (The source says George can occasionally be a sore loser at Monopoly and Louis is already learning how to play chess!) Things may be a little quieter than in seasons past, but all the more special thanks to the Cambridge kiddos.
"They've been raised with such compassion and positivity, and they're always counting their blessings," says the source. "William and Kate are so proud of their compassion and commitment, and their sense of wonder and joy, which is infectious to everyone around them."