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Britain Royals Christmas
Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, with Prince William, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry wait as the Queen leaves by car following the traditional Christmas Day church service, at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, England, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The British Royal Family attended a Christmas church service

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Queen Elizabeth II and senior members of the British royal family -- including actress Meghan Markle,— attended a Christmas church service as a crowd of local residents gathered.

Markle smiled and gave a brief wave in her first public appearance with the queen. She and Prince Harry stopped to talk with several locals on their way back to the queen's residence.

"She was very, very lovely," said Judith Wallis, a woman who chatted briefly with the couple. The crowd was larger than in previous years, perhaps because of curiosity about Markle.

The queen was joined by her husband, Prince Philip, and close family members including grandson Prince William and his wife, Kate, who is expected to give birth to the couple's third child in the spring.

Elizabeth, 91, and Philip, 96, missed last year's church service because they had the flu, but they seemed in good health during Monday's brief appearance. Philip walked back to the queen's house with other royals, but Elizabeth opted to be driven.

Elizabeth used her annual Christmas message to pay tribute to the way London and Manchester pulled together after extremist attacks earlier this year. The brief speech was televised on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom and the 51 other Commonwealth countries.

The queen, seated at a desk in her study, praised Manchester, hit by a suicide bomber in May, and London, which endured attacks on Parliament, London Bridge and other landmarks.

She said the cities' "powerful identities shone through over the past 12 months in the face of appalling attacks."

The queen said it was her privilege to visit young survivors of the attack on a Manchester concert hall as they were recovering from the blast which claimed 22 lives.

"I describe that hospital visit as a 'privilege' because the patients I met were an example to us all, showing extraordinary bravery and resilience," Elizabeth said.

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The queen and Philip are spending the holidays at Elizabeth's country estate in Sandringham, 110 miles north of London.

Markle seemed comfortable walking to the church arm-in-arm with Harry. She and Kate curtsied in front of the queen after the service was over.

Elizabeth said in her brief broadcast that the royal family looks forward "to welcoming new members into it next year."

The royal family had a private lunch scheduled after the church service.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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