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Why It’s Not So Surprising That Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Won’t Be at the Royal Family Christmas 2019 Celebration

4 minute read

At the royal family Christmas 2019 celebration, three popular members of the family will be absent from the photographs. Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and their son, Archie, will notably not be in attendance.

The Sussexes announced in a November statement that they had private plans for Christmas. A spokesperson said that Prince Harry, Meghan and Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor would spend “extended family time” with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland.

“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,” the statement said.

That’s true: It’s not without precedent. Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, have chosen to spend Christmases with their children at Middleton’s parents’ home in Berkshire on a number of occasions since their 2011 wedding, author Katie Nicholl wrote for Vanity Fair.

As is tradition, this year, the rest of the royal family—including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William and Kate Middleton—is spending the holiday at Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, a two-to-three hour drive northeast of London. The family has been spending Christmases in Sandringham since 1988.

Though it is Archie’s first Christmas since his birth in May, a royal expert tells TIME that their absence this Christmas is natural, despite speculation stemming from British tabloid headlines suggesting that skipping this year’s tradition might be a sign of discord or a slight.

“There’s no slight, it’s understood that Meghan had a baby this spring and [Ragland is] [Archie’s] grandma,” Marlene Koenig, an author and expert on the British royal family, tells TIME. “Doria [Ragland] lives in California, she cannot just always pop over to see her only grandchild, so I think the press sometimes make a mountain out of a molehill, or sort of create a situation that doesn’t exist.”

As an American, Meghan reportedly spent Thanksgiving with Harry and their son in U.S., making it clear that they are still dedicated to raising Archie with as normal a life as possible, and not forget about his American heritage. It’s only fair for any family to switch up who they celebrate with. In most cases, it’s common for families to trade-off holidays with in-laws, particularly when young children are involved. It turns out that’s no different for the royals.

“On other levels, I think it’s an extremely positive thing that a new royal of the royal family might want to spend some time with her own family as well,” Koenig says.

So, even though this means that Archie won’t be photographed with his cousins, Prince George of Cambridge, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge and Prince Louis of Cambridge, rest assured that he’ll be having a special, meaningful time with his parents and grandmother—whether they’re staying home at Frogmore Cottage or traveling to the U.S.

It’s also due to innovations over the last century that makes decisions like Harry and Meghan’s possible, Koenig explains. “In days of yore, before mass transit, if a foreign bride came, especially from another royal family, she didn’t see her family as often,” Koenig says. “But nowadays I think it’s just understood that the younger members of the royal family do want to spend the holidays with the spouse’s family as well.”

It’s worth noting that this decision comes in the wake of Harry and Meghan’s own stance on privacy with British tabloids. After dispelling a number of rumors that included defending a vacation (a topic that even Sir Elton John chimed in on) the couple announced on Oct. 1 that they sued Associated Newspapers for publishing a private letter.

Later in October, ITV aired a documentary about the couple that revealed just how hurt Meghan had been by the intense scrutiny she was put under upon marrying Harry. “I never thought this would be easy but I thought it would be fair,” she said of the negative British press coverage. “And that is the part that is hard to reconcile.”

Given the few months they’ve had, Koenig says she’s not surprised the family will have some well-deserved relaxation time. “I think that they’re spending time away for some emotional healing, no doubt, and regrouping,” Koenig says. “Let them have some peace and quiet for a while. It’s been a rough year.”

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Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com