Source: Facebook
Peter Mikelbank
December 15, 2015 10:10 AM

What’s better than a royal Christmas party? Two royal Christmas parties!

Both held inside a pink palace. Both hosted for local children, with Santa and gifts and entertainment. And refreshments whose recipes remain jealously guarded secrets.

That’s what Monaco’s Princess Grace thought, and for the first time her son Prince Albert and his wife, Princess Charlene, will be sharing this year’s annual Monaco Christmas Party with their 1-year old twins, Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella. The parties are set to take place on December 16 and December 18.

The tradition of Monaco’s decades-old Christmas party dates back to the late Princess Grace, who decided to host a party in the palace for the region’s underprivileged children to foster community ties. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, recalls one Monégasque who attended the parties as a child, “there was no television, practically no movies and definitely no Internet or diversions like today, so Princess Grace decided to offer children a day in the palace, with snacks and she showed some cartoons.

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“In a way, it was unintentional but the best idea imaginable to build ties between the new Princess and the next generation of Monégasque citizens,” he suggests. “It was a small gesture which has become a very big thing.

“Prince Rainier got behind it, and he and Princess Grace and their children made it into an annual bridge between their family and children from Monaco and surrounding communities.”

The Grimaldi family tradition has since grown and expanded. “It’s remarkably important to the family,” says the insider. “Everyone pitches in: Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie and their children, and Princess Charlene is there, handing out presents.”

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During the festivities – one for local kids and one for the children of palace staffers – youngsters meet the royal family and Santa Claus (Pére Noël) in person before going home with gifts. The cartoon reel has been replaced by stage magicians or in some years, clowns invited to perform by circus-loving Princess Stephanie.

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“It’s an unusual tradition, maybe my favorite,” suggests a longtime palace employee.

“The family really enjoys it, and it’s arranged with amazing preparation. Each child is given a gift researched in advance that suits their particular want or need. There’s something of a scramble with child’s name being called out and everyone is given an opportunity – if only a few moments – to speak privately with the Prince.

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“Everyone is mobilized. Members of the family, palace staff, secretaries. . . . everyone is there to help the children, and it’s really funny sometimes to see someone you know, someone you see all year long at work, assisting a child down the stairwells with packages bigger than the child themselves.”

“We’ll try and bring the babies to both events so the children and then the palace staff and their children can see them close,” Albert tells PEOPLE. “If they get tired, I’m certain that we’ll be able to find some place in the palace for them to take a nap. But they seemed to have so much energy, some much fun meeting people during National Day, that they may wear us out.”

There will be one other celebrated appearance, Albert assures.

Since the beginning of the Monaco Christmas parties, the palace has served chocolate milk. But this is no ordinary chocolate milk: Think deluxe hot chocolate made from a private recipe that has become legendary.

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While hesitant to part with a guarded recipe, palace chef Christian Garcia tells PEOPLE, “the secret of the palace’s famous Christmas hot chocolate is certainly is the quality of the whole fat milk provided by the Roc Agel dairy cows, and to that I add a good dark chocolate mix.”

Garcia uses a 70% chocolate blend from the Dominican Republic.

As European-style demands, the mix should be spoon-stand-up-in-it thick, served in cups and thinned to individual taste with additional milk.

“It’s meant to taste like melted chocolate bars,” says one palace insider.

“And I think he uses a dash of cinnamon, too.”

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