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Britain's royals attend Christmas service

Britain's royal family turned out in force Wednesday for a traditional Christmas church service, but the littlest prince was nowhere in sight.

While last year's royal Christmas had several noticeable absences — Prince Harry was in Afghanistan and Prince William spent Christmas with his in-laws — four generations gathered this year at Queen Elizabeth II's sprawling Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

Wearing an orange coat and black fur hat, Elizabeth arrived for the service at St. Mary Magdelene Church on the estate, accompanied by her granddaughter Zara Phillips, who is currently pregnant with her first child.

Many of the well-wishers gathered near the church had hoped to catch a glimpse of Prince George, the newest member of the royal family.

While the young prince was nowhere to be seen, his parents — Prince William and his wife, Kate — arrived at the church holding hands.

"We've had a good morning with George and I can't wait until next year when he's bigger," William told the crowd following the service.

Cicely Howard, 75, asked about the baby when she greeted Kate outside of the church.

"She told me he was having a lovely day but was more interested in the wrapping paper than the presents," Howard told Britain's Press Association.

After missing last year, Prince Harry also was in attendance.

Later Tuesday, the queen will deliver her traditional, pre-recorded Christmas message.

"With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock," she will say in the message, which was recorded earlier this month in the blue drawing room at Buckingham Palace.

Seated at a table decorated with pictures of her immediate family, the 87-year-old monarch will touch on prominent events over the past year — from the service that marked the 60th anniversary of her coronation to the birth of George.

The birth of a baby "gives everyone the chance to contemplate the future with renewed happiness and hope."

The queen's message — the latest in a royal tradition that began with a radio address by King George V in 1932 — also will contemplate the role of the Commonwealth and look ahead to the Commonwealth Games being held in Glasgow next year.

It will air at 1500 GMT (10 a.m. EST), after she and members of the royal family attend a traditional church service on her sprawling Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

The queen has made a prerecorded Christmas broadcast on radio since 1952 and on television since 1957. She writes the messages herself and the broadcasts mark a rare occasion on which the queen voices her own opinion without government consultation.

The Canadian Press

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