Celebrating the winter holidays was always important to Princess Grace, something she lovingly passed down to her children. From family traditions, like decorating a tree, to community and philanthropic celebrations, like the annual children’s Christmas party at the Palace, to holiday décor and customs that include sweet cakes and festive florals, spreading good cheer has become part of Princess Grace’s legacy and it can still be felt throughout Monaco today.
Princess Grace grew up celebrating Christmas in her hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania amassing memories and traditions that she thoughtfully—and enthusiastically—recreated for her own family with Prince Rainier. Like many families around the world, the Grimaldi’s have their own cherished set of festive activities and holiday bites that make the season memorable, charitable and poignant. Here are five of their favorite Monaco holiday traditions.
1. Tree Decorating at Palais Princier
One of the winter holiday customs Princess Grace particularly adored was the ritual of dressing a Christmas tree. The Grimaldi family decorated their own tree each year, adorning it with keepsake ornaments, tinsel, luxe bows and twinkling lights. The trees were often so grand that they required Princess Grace and the royal children to use ladders to place their ornaments along the top branches.
For a modern twist, instead of using a rich red textured bow as your tree topper - as Princess Grace often would -try tying a bow with a luxurious Grace de Monaco silk Twilly in rose-golds or blues.
2. The Annual Children’s Christmas Party
Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were known to make annual shopping trips to London to find Christmas gifts for the family. And Princess Grace, soon after her marriage, began an annual Christmas celebration by turning the Palace in Monaco into a winter wonderland. They would invite local children to come and enjoy sweets, entertainment, and activities—then gifting each child with a special surprise. It was a way to nurture the bond within the whole Monaco community. This tradition proved so popular, it continues to this day - over 60 years later - now hosted by His Serene Highness Prince Albert II and his family: Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene and their 8-year-old twins Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. This year’s celebration will be held for Monaco’s children aged 5 to 12 at the Palace on Wednesday, December 20.
3. Celebrating the Arts
Princess Grace sought out ways to spread holiday cheer beyond the borders of Monaco, once narrating The Nativity on television from the grounds of the Vatican—and starting the Princess Grace Ballet Academy in Monte Carlo, where future dancers of The Nutcracker first learned to be on pointe. Her love of the arts was the defining reason behind the creation of the Princess Grace Foundation USA and the grant program which supports emerging talent in theater, dance and film.
4. Baking Delicious Cakes
Princess Grace treasured the customs for which Monaco is known, including ritualistic holiday foods, like the Pan de Natale, sometimes referred to as “Christmas Bread.”
Historically, this holiday sweet bread has been a large, round loaf made from wheat flour that comes from either the mills in Monaco or nearby Roquebrune or Menton. On top of the bread seven small hazelnuts are arranged to form a cross that is then decorated with small branches from olive, orange or lemon trees. The cross is a sign of the Christian faith and the olive branch, a sign of peace. The orange or lemon branches are symbols of bounty.
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, the Pan de Natale is brought to Church where it is blessed at midnight Mass. Then it is brought home and placed on the dinner table, where the head of the family dips the olive twig in holy water, and says a prayer. The cake is then sliced and shared.
The Princely family’s holiday table may also have included some of the other popular holiday cakes with origins in Southern France and Italy, including the traditional Panettone, like the one baked for Rampoldi, one of the Grimaldi families favorite restaurants.
5. Creating Festive Floral Arrangements
As for décor, Princess Grace’s love for dried flowers was well documented (including in a book Grace wrote in 1980 called “My Book of Flowers), so it’s likely the Palace holiday décor included gorgeous arrangements. “Using preserved flowers for the holidays can look so manicured and sophisticated,” says Meredith Waga Perez, owner of the luxury floral and event design company Belle Fleur in Manhattan.
To make dried flowers look modern, Waga Perez recommends limiting the variety of flowers used in a bouquet. “I love doing arrangements with all one flower—like dried wheat, for example. One mass arrangement of 300 stems of wheat grass can look so sculptural.” Another way to elevate a preserved flower arrangement is to buy them in an eye-popping, unnatural color. “We are seeing this movement towards decorating with preserved flowers that have been dyed in a saturated hue, like hot pink, bright blue or deep scarlet.”
Finally, to give a preserved arrangement festive flair, Waga Perez suggests choosing the bouquet’s vessel with care—perhaps something gold, silver, holiday-themed, or even nostalgic can give the decor extra charm. Some suggestions: using a champagne bucket, vintage crystal bowl, sterling vase—or an orchid-embossed, white ceramic container from an empty Grace de Monaco candle. Because preserved flowers do not need water, you don’t have to worry about the container being water-tight, which allows you to expand your search and be creative. Finish the centerpiece with small candles placed on either side of the flower vase.
For the Grimaldi family, there were many celebratory moments throughout the holiday season. Time spent with family being the most important, but giving back to the community was also of the highest priority, and part of Princess Grace’s enduring legacy. It’s in her honor that these special moments continue to this day.