William & pregnant Kate break tradition, absent from royals' Christmas celebration

Prince William is spending Christmas with the Middleton family while Prince Harry is serving in Afghanistan

Queen Elizabeth II joined the British royal family for a Christmas church service on Tuesday -- but Prince William and his pregnant wife Catherine were notably absent.

William and the former Kate Middleton, who is recovering from severe morning sickness that saw her hospitalised for four days earlier this month, broke with tradition to spend Christmas Day with her family rather than the royals.

The 86-year-old queen, who had missed church on Sunday due to a cold, appeared in good spirits as she arrived for the morning service at St Mary Magdalene Church on her Sandringham estate in Norfolk, eastern England.

Wearing a turquoise coat dress and matching hat, she was met by some 1,000 wellwishers including crowds of children who queued to give her flowers.

The Queen used her traditional Christmas Day message, filmed in 3D for the first time, to pay tribute to the world's athletes for delivering a "splendid summer of sport" at the London Olympics.  (REUTERS)

The queen's 91-year-old husband Prince Philip, who spent last Christmas in hospital following a heart scare, was also at church along with heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

The royals traditionally spend Christmas at Sandringham, but William's younger brother Prince Harry will also be absent from this year's festivities as he serves in Afghanistan as an Apache helicopter pilot.

William and Kate's office at St James's Palace said the couple, whose first child will be third-in-line to the British throne, would visit Sandringham later in the festive season.

The queen and Prince Philip are understood to have approved their grandson's decision to spend Christmas Day with his parents-in-law, Michael and Carole Middleton, who run a party supplies business.

Kate's sister Pippa and brother James were also expected to spend the day at the Middleton family home in Bucklebury, a village west of London.

The queen's annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth -- recorded in 3D for the first time this year -- was due to be broadcast at 1500 GMT.

Behind-the-scenes photographs showed the queen beaming as she previewed the footage, wearing customised 3D glasses marked with a "Q" in diamante studs.

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