OPINION

There are twinkling fairy lights in every shopping centre and carols are already playing on nauseating repeat in department stores.

There might be 41 days before Christmas but much of the world is already cheerfully girding themselves for a bumper holiday season.

However, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have dealt a blow to one particularly long standing festive tradition, reports news.com.au.

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Today, they confirmed they will not be enjoying Christmas with the Queen and the rest of the extended Windsor clan.

In a statement they said that "Having spent the last two Christmases at Sandringham, Their Royal Highnesses will spend the holiday this year, as a new family, with the Duchess' 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."

At first glance this might appear a largely benign choice because after all, several days of raucous children, gin-soaked great-aunts and non-stop goose on the menu is enough to make any sensible person want to back out.

This has been a stormy year for Harry and Meghan as they faced multiple PR bungles. Photo / AP
This has been a stormy year for Harry and Meghan as they faced multiple PR bungles. Photo / AP

But Harry and Meghan are not just another pair of titled HRHs and this is not situation normal.

Take a closer look at the bigger picture here and it is hard not to interpret the couple's decision as a stinging rejection of the Queen and the family.

This has been a stormy year for Harry and Meghan as they faced repeated PR bungles, contended with various controversies over such things as their son Archie's christening and their private jet use, and gone toe-to-toe with the UK tabloid media.

In among all of this were the mounting reports that the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry was increasingly frosty, which Harry then tacitly confirmed during the Sussexes' much-hyped TV documentary last month.

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Days after that bombshell, an unnamed source reportedly put regal noses out of joint when they claimed that Harry and Meghan were single-handedly dragging the royal family into the 21st century.

The Queen will be sipping Champagne without her grandson and great-grandson. Photo / File
The Queen will be sipping Champagne without her grandson and great-grandson. Photo / File

In a poll released last week, Meghan was voted the second least popular member of the royal family, with Prince Andrew claiming the bottom ranking.

All of which is to say, some make-nice time with the rellies and a sure-fire PR boost might not have gone astray.

The significance of Christmas for the royal family is two-fold. On a personal level, it is one of the few times in the year that Her Majesty gets to have her four children, eight grandchildren and their various partners, and eight great-grandchildren around her all at the same time.

Like any family, coming together to eat, drink and fight over the last Lindt ball is an occasion to be cherished.

Then there is the public meaning. On Christmas Day, the Windsors troop off to nearby St Mary Magdalene en masse, gamely wrapped up against the icy Norfolk chill.

Hundreds of fans and locals gather to watch the procession, which is a powerful public show of force and togetherness. (Last year, the Sussexes and the Cambridges pointedly arrived as a foursome in what was seen as an attempt to quell already bubbling rift rumours.)

Because if there is one thing that the royal family do to sublime perfection it is to front up official events looking cheerful in very expensive hats.

It will be baby Archie's first Christmas. Photo / AP
It will be baby Archie's first Christmas. Photo / AP

It had been expected that this year could play out similarly. For Harry and Meghan, merrily trotting along to Church, ideally alongside Kate and William, would have injected some good old fashioned cheer into the conversation about them.

The symbolism would have been clear – no matter what has happened up until now, we are team players and are putting it behind us and getting on with things.

More than that, it would have helped them draw a line under the bruising coverage they have faced and ongoing speculation about just who is bickering with whom.

(Keep in mind also that Prince Philip is 98 years old while the Queen a comparatively sprightly 93 years old. Without sounding too ghoulish, it is impossible not to wonder how many more Christmases they might have left.)

There are also a couple of sticking points in the couple's statement.

It is entirely understandable, as a woman living on the other side of the world to her family, for Meghan to want to be near her mum Doria Ragland for the holidays. However, there is every chance that she would have been more than welcome to join the celebration at Sandringham.

After all, last year credible reports circulated saying that in a highly unusual move the Queen had invited Doria to join them for Chrissie though the LA-based yoga teacher and social worker turned down the invitation.

William and Kate sat next to the Queen while Harry and Meghan were relegated further back at a Remembrance Day event at the weekend. Photo / Getty
William and Kate sat next to the Queen while Harry and Meghan were relegated further back at a Remembrance Day event at the weekend. Photo / Getty

And yes, while William and Kate have on rare occasions spent December 25 with the Middleton family, their situation was entirely different.

When Kate and Wills made the decision to hang up their stockings in her parents' house in Berkshire, they were the darlings of the royal family, crowd-pulling, adulation-generating superstars and their choice barely raised an eyebrow.

There was no question about the strength of their relationship with the royal family at large or any lingering concerns about their commitment to The Firm.

Harry and Meghan are a different case entirely. They would surely have known in advance the headlines this decision will spawn and that the unspoken message is that they can't even bring themselves to spend 72 hours with his family.

(They could have potentially even have got it down to 48 hours given official celebrations kick off with an afternoon tea on Christmas Eve before winding down with a Boxing Day pheasant shoot.)

The more scrutiny this choice bears, the harder it is not to interpret this as something of a two-finger salute to The Firm as a whole. More broadly, this move suggests a certain tragic permanence to the Sussexes' growing alienation from the Queen and Co and that 2020 will only see the Duke and Duchess further pulling away from his family.

This year will be little Archie's first Christmas. It's a shame that he won't get to enjoy the day like millions of other babies around the world – by grabbing at fragile ornaments, attempting to eat low hanging tree branches and playing in empty toy boxes with his entire family around him.