Meghan Markle joins royal family for first Christmas together

Queen Elizabeth II and senior members of the royal family — along with newcomer Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancee — arrived at a Christmas church service on Monday as a crowd of local residents gathered.

Markle smiled and gave a brief wave on her way into the church in her first public appearance with the queen. Many well-wishers carried flowers to give to the royals after the service.

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 planned to use her annual Christmas message to pay tribute to the way the cities of London and Manchester pulled together after extremist attacks earlier this year.

Remarks pre-recorded by the 91-year-old monarch will be televised later on Christmas Day in the United Kingdom and the 51 other Commonwealth countries.

Excerpts released by Buckingham Palace indicate Elizabeth praises Manchester, hit by a suicide bomber in May, and London, which endured attacks on Parliament, London Bridge and other landmarks.

“This Christmas, I think of London and Manchester, whose powerful identities shone through over the past 12 months in the face of appalling attacks,” she says.

The queen says 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,” she says.

Elizabeth also pays tribute to her 96-year-old husband, who this year stepped down from most public duties because of his advancing years. She praises him for his “support and unique sense of humor.”

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

The royal family has a private lunch scheduled after the church service. They traditionally exchange gifts on Christmas Eve.

This is the first Christmas the family will be joined by Markle. She and Prince Harry plan to marry at Windsor Castle in May.

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