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Why the Queen hosts her Christmas lunch a week early

The royals gathered at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday

royal lunch
Danielle Stacey
Danielle StaceyOnline Royal CorrespondentLondon
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The Queen welcomed members of the royal family for her annual Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday – almost a whole week before the big day itself. There's a good reason for Her Majesty's early Christmas celebrations, as it's one of the rare occasions where her extended family can all be together in one place.

WATCH: The royals arrive for the Queen's Christmas lunch

After the State Opening of Parliament on Thursday, the 93-year-old monarch is expected to prepare to travel to Sandringham, where she spends her winter break until early February. Usually only immediate members of the royal family join her at her Norfolk estate, so the Christmas lunch gives the Queen the opportunity to catch up with her cousins, nieces and nephews.

GALLERY: Kate Middleton, Prince William and children among royals at Queen's Christmas lunch - best photos

lady gabriella windsor© Photo: Getty Images

Lady Gabriella Windsor and husband Thomas Kingston

While no photos from the private event are published, the royals are usually pictured driving to Buckingham Palace. Among the guests at this year's lunch were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their three children, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne and husband Sir Tim Laurence, as well as Prince Andrew and the Earl and Countess of Wessex.

MORE: Why the Queen was dressed casually at the State Opening of Parliament

lady sarah chatto© Photo: Getty Images

Lady Sarah Chatto and husband Daniel 

The Queen's niece, Princess Margaret's daughter Lady Sarah Chatto and husband Daniel were spotted driving to the bash, along with the Duke of Kent's daughter Lady Helen Taylor and her husband Timothy. The Duchess of Gloucester, who is married to the Queen's cousin, Prince Richard, was pictured in the back of another car. Newlyweds Lady Gabriella and Thomas Kingston also joined the royal party, as did the Queen's cousin Princess Alexandra's granddaughter, Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, who announced her engagement to Timothy Vesterberg last month.

Just like households across the UK, the royals have their own festive traditions, one of which is opening their presents on Christmas Eve. The gifts are put out on a trestle table after tea time in Sandringham for family members to exchange. 

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