The Queen celebrates Christmas before annual speech

SANDRINGHAM, England — The Queen and other members of the Royal Family received cheers from a Christmas crowd when they arrived for a church service Tuesday on the grounds of one of the monarch’s country estates.

A chauffeured limousine delivered the 92-year-old monarch to St. Mary Magdalene Church, while younger royals walked from the Queen’s grand country house in Sandringham.

Prince Charles led the way, followed by his sons: Prince William and his wife, Catherine, and Prince Harry and his pregnant wife, Meghan.

Harry and Meghan, who are expecting their first child in the spring, walked arm in arm next to William and Catherine. Many in the crowd wished them “Merry Christmas” as they strolled to the church in the English countryside.

During the service, the congregation sang the traditional carols “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” ”Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

After the 45-minute service, people gave them flowers as they headed back to nearby Sandringham House for a family holiday that includes a traditional Christmas lunch.

The Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who is 97 and largely retired from public life, did not attend the service. Charles’ wife Camilla, who is recovering from flu, also missed church.

William and Catherine’s three children — Prince George, 5, Princess Charlotte, 3, and 8-month-old Prince Louis, also stayed home.

Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son, arrived by car with his mother. Princess Eugenie, another of the Queen’s grandchildren, arrived with husband Jack Brooksbank.

The royals usually exchange small gifts on Christmas Eve, a practice popularized by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen typically frowns on extravagant gifts, and many of the presents are novelty items.

When the Queen was younger, Christmas meant a brisk family walk through the woods on Christmas or an excursion on horseback.

The Queen’s pre-recorded annual message to Britain and the 52 other Commonwealth nations is scheduled to be televised in the afternoon.

Queen Elizabeth II made her first Christmas Day broadcast on the radio in 1952, the year she ascended to the throne.

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