Christmas is all about tradition, isn't it? Decking the halls, stopping the corgis eating the tinsel and Princess Anne getting stuck into the bubbly at a wonderfully indecent hour. (Okay, that might just be the imaginings of my mince pie-addled brain …)
For the past few years, a new royal festive custom has developed, one that is as predictable as Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge's very literal wardrobe of wall-to-wall red in December and the Queen's speech being so soporific that she could have put Stilnox out of business.
The propagators of this new holiday – note the nomenclature here – tradition are the house of Windsor's most famous defectors Harry, and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and who have, since 2019, got into the habit of putting out their annual Christmas card on December 23 or 24.
Overnight, their latest offering was revealed and hold the front pages! All of them! This is a doozy.
The shot, taken by renowned snapper Alexi Lubomirski, shows not only Harry and Meghan but also their 2- and-a-half-year-old son Archie and their daughter Lilibet, the first official photo they have released of the bub since she was born in June.
It is a beautiful image, all joy and love and big smiles. It makes one's spirit lift and the heart soar.
And it's a very serious error of judgment, if you ask me.
Firstly and most obviously, we can see Archie and Lili's faces. (Quick side note: These are some damn adorable kidlets.) The world has not seen his little face since May 2020 when his parents released a video of him on his mum's knee to mark his first birthday, while little Lili has been kept firmly out of the spotlight since she arrived six months ago.
It had looked very much like this was going to remain the status quo and it would not have come as a surprise at all if this year's Sussex card featured the young pair obscured or their faces somehow hidden. After all, last year's Christmas card was a slightly odd illustration of a photograph which offered zero clues about what Archie might actually look like while to mark his second birthday this year, the image they released showed the tot from the back.
Given Harry and Meghan's long-running war to shield their son from the lenses of the baying media, this all made perfect sense. The couple have made no secret of their deep-seated resentment for what have become the etched-in-stone demands on royal parents when it came to access to their progeny.
Cast your mind back to May 2019 when Archie entered the world and one of the key points of friction between the Sussexes and much of the media was their refusal to share him with the world in the usual sort of post-hospital camera free-for-all.
Similarly, as the weeks and months drifted by after Lili was born with nary a charming image of even a chubby little hand or a heart-melting tiny foot, it looked increasingly like we might never see her face in any sort of official image.
So … why? Why now? Why reveal what their children look like? Why put them on display when it was not necessary and it would have made perfect sense for them to remain artfully obscured in shots such as this one?
There was no clamouring, uproarious public demand for Harry and Meghan to offer up their son and daughter for us the prying public, so …. why?
Don't lose sight of the fact here too that Harry and Meghan are officially civilians, therefore there is no expectation or requirement that they put out a card at all. That they continue to do so is entirely their own choice.
It is incredibly hard here to draw any conclusion, but that they must know what 24-carat PR this photo of the four of them represents and the incredible power and potency of this image of them as a damn-near-perfect modern family. (Say what you will about the Sussexes but golly they are a supremely photogenic lot.)
Likewise, it is worth making a note of the timing here. The Christmas cards for William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the rest of the royal family went out weeks ago, as they usually do. The Sussexes, in timing their cards' releases for this late moment, can all but guarantee the maximum publicity and the maximum social media frenzy.
But, back to what is really bewildering here, i.e., the big Archie and Lili reveal. Up until now, Harry and Meghan have assiduously, and totally understandable, shielded their little ones and done everything they can to minimise their exposure.
Footage of the duo and Archie playing on the beach was shown during their bombshell Oprah interview but we never saw his face. In May, when Harry's TV series The Me You Can't See was released, it included a clip of the prince and his son on swings. Again, delightful and again, Archie's face was never shown.
Whether wittingly or not, they have just managed to demolish that carefully crafted and maintained wall of privacy they have built around their kids.
Let me be clear here – I am not for a second saying I agree with the predatory paparazzi's pursuit of children – it is abhorrent – but in the wake of Sussexes sharing this image, it makes it that much harder for them to retain the moral high ground should they demand their kids be left alone. It will be difficult for them to occupy a position of moral outrage if and when their children are snapped in places when they are willing to expose their kids when it suits them. (Meghan launched legal action after she was photographed on public land while walking with Archie last year.)
There is one last big takeaway from the holiday card we need to talk about: How damn happy they look. No matter what your views might be on Megxit or their decision to air all the royal family's dirty laundry on TV or to write a memoir or get chickens or get into bed with corporate giant after corporate giant, what is undeniable is that their new vitamin D-dappled lives clearly suit them perfectly.
Family harmony might not be on the cards for the Sussexes, when it comes to the Windsors, but joy? They look full to bursting. Even Santa couldn't come up with a better gift.