Thousands gather as Kate celebrates first royal Christmas
They came out in the thousands for a Christmas the Royal Family isn't soon likely to forget.
For one thing, it was the Duchess of Cambridge's first Yuletide with the family, and her impact on the size of the royal gawkers around St. Mary Magdalene church in Sandringham was huge. For another, it was a Christmas procession without Prince Philip, who is recuperating in a hospital following heart surgery to treat a blocked artery.
Mixed feelings of concern and joy for the family, but there were smiles all around as they made the walk from Sandringham House to the church with about three thousand people lining the route.
During the service, the minister, Rev. Jonathan Riviere, asked for prayers for the 90-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, who had a stent put in and remains at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.
"We pray for the Queen and the Royal Family, especially today we pray for Prince Philip and his continued recovery," said Rev. Riviere.
Six of Prince Philip's grandchildren visited him Christmas afternoon, including William and Harry.
The Queen, 85, was driven to church, exiting later with a warm smile as children presented her with flowers.
Kate, wearing a hat by Jane Corbett, and her husband Prince William spent 20 minutes wading through the well-wishers and accepting flowers after the Christmas service.
The Royal Family would normally expect several hundred people on their annual trek to Christmas church, but Kate's appearance swelled the crowds that some said was reminiscent of the days of Princess Diana.
This year marks one of the largest gatherings of royals at Sandringham for Christmas with more than two dozen making the trek to the Queen's estate, where she will stay until February. (For the Queen's annual Christmas Day TV broadcast, see video at the bottom of this post.)
Princess Eugenie and Queen Elizabeth II accept flowers from children outside Sandringham Church after the traditional Christmas Day service at Sandringham. (Getty Images)
Prince William, Prince Charles, Catherine, Camilla and Prince Harry walk to Sandringham Church for the traditional Christmas Day service at Sandringham. (Getty Images)
Autumn Philips, Peter Philips and Princess Beatrice arrive at Sandringham Church for the traditional Christmas Day service at Sandringham. Princess Anne's son and his Canadian-born wife are expecting their second child in March. (Getty Images)