Why the Queen Is 'Prepared to Bend' in Welcoming Meghan Markle for Christmas

Hint: She's 91.

With Meghan Markle set to take part in the Christmas festivities at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham home on December 25, insiders detect a softening of the monarch and the royal ways.

At 91, the Queen has mellowed and is more realistic about the modern world, insiders and veteran royal watchers tell PEOPLE in this week’s issue. Which is why Meghan will break protocol to join her fiancé Prince Harry at the church service with the rest of the royal family on Christmas morning.

“It’s her age,” says Ingrid Seward, author of My Husband & I, a new biography of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. “She is easier-going. It’s refreshing that [the royal family] is prepared to bend a bit.”

And a friend of the family adds, “They are much more enlightened now.”

For more about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Christmas plans, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on Friday

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Back when Kate Middleton was engaged to Prince William in 2010, she did not join him for Christmas at Sandringham.

“Ms. Markle,” as the palace calls her, and Harry will stay at Anmer Hall, the 10-bedroom country home of William and Kate and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte. After church, she will head to the “big house” (as it’s known in royal circles) for lunch with the Queen and the rest of the family.

Meghan, who joined Harry for the Queen’s pre-holiday lunch at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, is already getting accustomed to the palace and its staff and family. She impressed guests as she was introduced to hundreds of courtiers and palace workers at another annual bash at Windsor Castle on December 11 — in some of the same state apartments where she and Harry will hold their wedding reception on May 19.

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