How Princess Diana Accidentally Broke Tradition During Her First Royal Christmas

Christmas is a big time for the British Royal Family. Each year on December 25, the reigning monarch addresses the citizens of the Commonwealth with the Christmas Broadcast, which reflects on the previous 12 months for both the monarchy and the nation, and looks ahead at the challenges that the new year brings. The first such broadcast was made by King George V way back in 1932, and it is now a tradition in many households in the U.K. and abroad for families to sit down together to watch it.

The royals have been instrumental in forming numerous Christmas traditions. In fact, it was even a member of the British royal family, Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, who normalized in the U.K. the traditional German practice of bringing a tree into the home during the holidays, which then spread to other countries including the U.S. But they also have plenty of traditions that haven't become part of the mainstream, such as the practice of weighing guests before and after Christmas dinner to ensure everyone has truly eaten a sizeable amount. They also have a quirk when it comes to the kinds of gifts they give each other at Christmas (which they actually give to each other on Christmas Eve, a nod to the Windsors' German heritage), one that wasn't communicated to Princess Diana. And Diana reportedly experienced a degree of embarrassment during her first Christmas with the royals after her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981 when she gifted her new sister-in-law, Princess Anne, a beautiful cashmere sweater.

The royals love joke presents

You would think you'd be safe in assuming that royals and aristocrats, classy as they are, would gift each other classy presents. Tasteful jewelry, exotic pets, expensive cars, surprise pieces of property from their sprawling portfolios — that kind of thing. And you would might also assume that a luxurious cashmere sweater would certainly fit the bill if you had to come up with a gift for a member of the upper classes one Christmas.

But as numerous royalty-focused outlets have revealed, the British Royal Family doesn't care for good taste in Christmas presents. In fact, even Queen Elizabeth II was a fan of cheap, tacky, ironic gifts, so much so that the practice of giving them has become a well-established royal tradition in itself. Gifts in recent years have included a shower cap bearing the words "ain't life a b****," which was given by Prince Harry to his grandmother, and a grow-your-own-girlfriend kit given by Kate Middleton to her brother-in-law Harry, presumably before his marriage to Meghan Markle.

Princess Diana wasn't to know this, but the sweater she had gifted Princess Anne was considered something of a faux pas that first Christmas in 1981. In return, she received a toilet roll holder. However, the following year she joined in by giving Sarah, Dutchess of York a ludicrous leopard print bath mat.

Christmas was not a good time for Diana

Diana Spencer's travails as a member of the Royal Family during the 15 years she was married to the former Prince of Wales are well documented, with the difficulty she had in fulfilling what was expected of her as a Princess becoming abundantly clear through countless posthumous exposés. One incident from Christmas 1985 is particularly revealing of the tensions that plagued the couple's marriage. Per Readers Digest, that year Diana, who had performed ballet in her early years, took secret dance lessons so that she could surprise her husband with a performance before the audience at a Christmas gala they were to attend in Covent Garden. Though she performed without a hitch, Charles was reportedly angry that he hadn't been informed and that Diana had made herself the center of attention.

The last Christmas Diana spent with the Windsors in 1991, just 12 months before her painful separation from Prince Charles, was a time when the Princess was reportedly at the end of her tether trying to keep the facade that covered her failing marriage intact. The period was recently dramatized as part of the hit show, "Spencer," starring Kristen Stewart, raising fresh interest in how outsiders must navigate the rules of being a royal at a time of year when tradition matters more than any other.