Saturday, December 26, 2009

British royals celebrate Christmas

LONDON (AFP) – Britain's royal family took their traditional public Christmas Day stroll to and from church on Friday, with one well-wisher receiving a hug and a kiss from Prince William.

The royals traditionally spend their winter break at Sandringham, Queen Elizabeth II's private estate in Norfolk, eastern England.

Around 1,000 onlookers watched them attend the Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene church on the estate.

William, third in line to the throne, stopped to greet carer Debbie Barlett, 51, who lives near Sandringham.

"He gave me a hug and a kiss and asked me where my snowman was," she said.

"I've been coming here for the past 20 years. It's one chance you get to see the royals altogether. It's lovely."

Army officers William and his brother Prince Harry are both on leave from their military training to become helicopter pilots. As per royal etiquette, their girlfriends were not present.

Afterwards outside the church, well-wishers handed several bouquets of flowers to the 83-year-old Queen Elizabeth, who wore a red outfit.

Equestrian world champion Zara Phillips, 28, the queen's eldest grand-daughter, sported the most daring footwear on the icy quarter-mile (400-metre) path from Sandringham House -- six-inch (15-centimetre) stiletto heels.

While most people in Britain open their presents on Christmas Day, the royals follow the German tradition and open theirs on Christmas Eve. The queen apparently prefers practical gifts that are not overly extravagant.

After dinner, the ladies adjourn and Queen Elizabeth's husband Prince Philip serves port or brandy to the men.

Following their Christmas morning visit to the church, lunch is served at 1:00 pm, usually a giant turkey reared on the estate.

While the royal family gathers round the television to watch Queen Elizabeth's Christmas Day broadcast at 3:00 pm, the sovereign sometimes watches it alone in another room.

This year, the queen's lawyers have warned newspapers not to publish paparazzi pictures of the royals on their winter break. Freelance photographers normally spend hours monitoring the area to get pictures of the family on the estate.

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