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Muted celebrations for a scattered royal family

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Prince Harry examines the 30mm cannon of an Apache helicopter in Afghanistan, where he is serving over Christmas.

Prince Harry examines the 30mm cannon of an Apache helicopter in Afghanistan, where he is serving over Christmas. Photo: AFP

Christmas celebrations could be somewhat muted for the British royal family, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry absent from the traditional Sandringham festivities and the Queen recovering from a cold.

Prince William and his pregnant wife Kate are spending Christmas Day with her family in Berkshire, while Harry is serving as an Apache pilot in Afghanistan.

Traditionally the entire royal family would gather at the Queen's Norfolk estate home over the festive period.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave the King Edward VII hospital earlier this month.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave the King Edward VII hospital earlier this month. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

Each year crowds of well-wishers turn out to greet the royals as they attend an annual Christmas Day church service, but this year's appearance could be more low-key because of the absence of William and Kate.

Kate's return to the bosom of the Middleton family comes after a testing few weeks for the duchess, who was forced to announce her pregnancy earlier than planned when she was admitted to King Edward VII's Hospital in London following a bout of severe morning sickness.

The condition, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, leaves expectant mothers so ill they cannot keep food or liquids down.

According to Kate's sister Pippa, Christmas at the Middleton family home will be "blissfully calm".

But it is likely to include some high jinks, she revealed, instigated by their father Michael.

Writing in the latest edition of The Spectator magazine, Pippa Middleton said: "He buys a new costume each year and typically gets a bit carried away - a couple of Christmases ago he appeared in an inflatable sumo outfit."

In Afghanistan, Prince Harry will celebrate Christmas with fellow troops. This typically involves roast turkey with all the trimmings, thousands of mince pies and a smattering of fancy dress.

It will be a far cry from the formalities at Sandringham where the Queen - who came down with a cold last week which meant she was forced to miss a church service on Sunday - is expected to be joined by the Duke of Edinburgh for a service at St Mary Magdalene Church.

Prince Philip was forced to miss the occasion last year because he was in hospital being treated for a blocked coronary artery.

AAP

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