It is unlikely that many people, busy with their jobs and families and perhaps planning a summer vacation, thought much about Christmas, and what it symbolizes yesterday. But about 160 elderly people - many of them blind or disabled and almost all of them lonely-not only thought about it they actually celebrated it yesterday.
They ate Turkey with cranberry sauce, sang "Joy to the World", and opened gifts. A plastic Christmas tree, decorated in blue and surrounded by shiny packages, stood on one side of a stage. A chorus entertained them with traditional Christmas songs.
The ocassion was the sixth annual "Christmas in July" dinner at tthe Model Cities Senior Center at 35 K St. NE.
"People forget about each other from Christmas to Christmas," remarked John G. Hutchison, chief of the older persons programs of the community services administration, which helps fund the center. "This is an ocassion to remember."
It was clear from the smiles on their faces and the laughter at each other's jokes that the songs, small gifts and performances by their friends lifted the spirits of the elderly.
The Christmas celebration was one of the high lights of the year for the elderly, according to the center staff. The senior citizens are welcomed each day for recreation and meals.
"It means a lot to me, it means life," said Mack Johnston 73, a former cook for the railroads.
"I enjoy coming here because I'm not pushed over in a corner. They're so loving to you it makes you feel that you're still living," remarked Blonge W. Hawkins a sprightly septuagenerian, who spends about four hours a day at the center.
For both Johnston and Hawkins, the center is the only place where they can meet people and participate in a wide range of activities including pool, crocheting, and field trips. Medical attention is also available.
"In a a lot of cases these people wouldn't live two years if they didn't have someplace to go," said Robert Huges, who drives a bus that shuttles members from their homes to the center.
"I can look at them in the morning and know if they're physically or mentally upset," Huges added. "Then I have t find a way to get them out of it.
Virgie Smith, the center's director, said that the only deaths since she arrived have been during the weekend, when the center closes.
"When they leave in Friday, they know they have two days of nothingness," she said.
"It's the spirit of Christmas in July because so many people [at the center] die that they won't see December 25," said Julia B. Salley, a retiredschoolteacher.