As Kate Middleton heads into the Christmas holidays, the expectant mom knows she’s in for a highly formal time with her in-laws. “[Sarah Ferguson], The Duchess of York, once said that the hardest thing about a royal Christmas is the amount of clothes you need — sometimes five different outfits a day for various events,” royals expert Phil Dampier told Closer Weekly of the packed three-day schedule at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England.

That’s why Kate is looking forward to a sweet tradition in nearby Anmer Hall with Prince William and their adorable kids, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2. “Kate’s a fantastic cook, and baking is her specialty,” a royal insider revealed to Closer. “She makes wonderful gingerbread men and the children love her chocolate brownies and other biscuits.”

Another treat awaiting the pint-size royals? Their uncle, Prince Harry, 33, and his new fiancée, Meghan Markle, 36, will spend Saturday, Dec. 23 through Tuesday, Dec. 26 at Anmer Hall, as the Duchess takes on the informal role of royal advisor to her soon-to-be sister-in-law. “Kate wants Meghan to relax after the engagement-news whirlwind,” a second insider told Closer, “so she’s planning a low-key lunch for Wills, Harry, Meghan, and the kids that they’ll all cook together.”

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are pleased to share a new photograph of their family. The image features on Their Royal Highnesses' Christmas card this year. The photograph shows The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their two children at Kensington Palace. It was taken earlier this year by @chrisjacksongetty Their Royal Highnesses have also announced this morning that Princess Charlotte will attend the Willcocks Nursery School in London from January 2018. The Willcocks Nursery School has said: "We are delighted that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have chosen the Willcocks Nursery School for Princess Charlotte. We look forward to welcoming Charlotte to our nursery in January."

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And as she continues to put a modern spin on the monarchy, Kate is eager to create special memories for her young family. She and William, both 35, “love the fact that they have their separate home and can escape the madness of Sandringham, where there are around 30 other members of the family,” Dampier said. Added the first insider, “Kate’s determined to make it a magical Christmas.”

The decorations at Anmer Hall will have a lot of personal meaning. “Kate has a reindeer she likes to put on the tree, which is an old family heirloom,” the first insider said. “And she has a lot of decorations she’s had since she was a kid.” Some may even end up in the nursery, which she and Will have already started to plan for their third child, due in April 2018. To prepare Meghan for the next few days of royal celebrations, Kate will take her on a tour of Sandringham “to show her around the incredible grounds,” the second insider said. “Kate’s already explained the formalities of the Queen’s Christmas, so Meghan understands the order of events and all the dos and don’ts. Kate’s even explained what the place settings will look like, how many forks and knives there will be and in which order you use them.”

She knows firsthand how daunting it can be to adjust to years of royal tradition and expectation. “Kate was a bag of nerves the first time she did Christmas at Sandringham,” a source said. “In fact, she says she was almost physically sick” from the stress, which is why she opts for less formality and more relaxation under her own roof. Late in the day of Saturday, Dec. 23, the two young royal couples will settle down and unwind with George and Charlotte to watch some kids’ holiday movies. “Elf and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are among the family’s favorites,” the first insider shared. Noted the source, “Meghan is desperate to play with George and Charlotte!”

The rest of the royals have fun of their own. In keeping with the Windsor family’s German lineage, they have a spirited gift exchange on Christmas Eve. “The adults don’t give each other expensive presents. Rather, they delight in handing out silly joke gifts like Mickey Mouse socks or things from charity shops,” the first insider revealed. “One year the queen gave out singing fishes like one she has mounted on a wall at Balmoral, her Scottish home.” As for the ins and outs of royal gift-giving, Kate experienced a steep learning curve herself. “I can remember being at Sandringham, for the first time, at Christmas. And I was worried what to give the Queen,” she once recalled. The Duchess finally settled on whipping up a batch of her grandmother’s chutney. “It could have gone horribly wrong,” Kate admitted, “but I noticed the next day that it was on [the Queen’s] table!”

prince william kate middleton prince harry meghan markle getty images
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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

After gifts, everyone retires to dress for dinner. Ballgowns and dinner jackets are in order. The 8:30 p.m. meal is eased into with a gin and tonic or — the Queen’s favorite — a dry martini in the saloon. Then, the main course is likely to include Norfolk shrimp, lamb or local game, followed by a dessert of tarte Tatin with brandy crème or a soufflé. All will be served at a long, candlelit table decorated with flowers from the Sandringham estate nursery. Prince William needs all the sustenance he can get. “If I get any sleep on Christmas Eve it’ll be good,” he’s joked, as George has a tendency to “bounce around like a rabbit” with excitement over his gifts, which Kate, Will, Harry, and Meghan will all be able to witness on Christmas morning.

Kate will then call her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, to wish them a happy holiday before she “takes the kids for a walk in the woods with William,” Dampier said. “It’s a family tradition Kate remembers from her own childhood.” She’ll also join in a toast with Will and Harry to the memory of their late mother, Princess Diana. The day has a string of formal duties scheduled, including Christmas Mass at St. Mary Magdalene Church, a lunch and a group gathering to watch the Queen’s televised address to the nation. More fun awaits that evening when the royals take to playing games. “They play charades, and the Queen is a brilliant mimic who often does impersonations of famous politicians, like some of the US presidents she’s met,” Dampier revealed. “Meghan, who’s an accomplished actress, will love it, and I’m sure she’ll really make an impression.”

That will make Kate’s job of acclimating Meghan to royal holiday protocol a little easier. “Kate wants to help Meghan as much as she can. She doesn’t want her to feel lost, stressed, lonely or isolated,” the second insider shared. The two will sit out the Boxing Day festivities on Tuesday, Dec. 26, when the royals go on their annual pheasant hunt on the queen’s estate. “Neither Meghan nor Kate are keen on blood sports,” the second insider noted, and it’s known that Kate much prefers staying inside with her kids anyway as they play with their toys. The second insider revealed that the Duchess would actually love to “go on a girls’ night out with Meghan over the holidays, but she’s five months pregnant” so they’ll wait until the New Year to do a laid-back lunch. (They may try to sneak in some yoga time together, however.)

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Besides, Kate believes that Christmas is all about the kids, so she doesn’t want to sacrifice too much time with George and Charlotte, who are eager for their new sibling to be born. “They’ve already started talking about their new baby brother or sister,” the first insider said, “and Kate is encouraging them to make some toys for the new arrival — or arrivals, as there are rumors Kate is carrying twins.” While that would thrill the tots, Charlotte is totally content counting on the new little one being another girl. “She wants to name it Peppa,” the first insider said, “though no one’s sure whether that’s after [British cartoon character] Peppa Pig or her auntie, Pippa [Middleton].”

It’s unlikely that Charlotte will be given baby-naming rights, but with the other gifts and fun that Kate has in store, the children are sure to be blessed with some lifelong memories. “All in all,” the first insider said, “it’s going to be a wonderful family Christmas.”

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