The smell of fresh baked bread, pumpkin pies and basting turkey filled the comfortably warm living room where Arthur Chester sat relaxed, stocking feet propped upon and sunk into a hand stuffed cushion as he lazily watched the football game and generally enjoyed the life of Riley this Thanksgiving Day.

Long before he even woke up yesterday, his wife, Beatrice, was in the kitchen. It smelled good in there too, but it was somewhat stuffy and hot.

"It's like a typical weekend," Mrs. Chester said. "I really don't mind cooking and I really don't mind Art speading the day watching the games.I do hope he remembers who to thank for all of this though," she said.

The fare was football and turkey - or was it turkey and football? - at not a few homes throughout the Washington area yester. And the delicate and uniquely American science of orchestrating the cooking and serving of turkey in concert with the rigid schedules of professional and collegiate football was being further refined.

Take, for instance, John Greco of Fairlington Villages. He had figured out earlier that if he ate his turkey dinner at 3 p.m., he would be able to view all of the first televised game and most of the second.

"All of our dinners are planned around TV." said Vicki Greco. who directed the kitchen operations almost singlehandedly while John finetuned the television. "I wish they'd schedule the games around dinner once in a while."

At the home of D. C. CIty Council member Douglas Moore. whose wife Daisy is a descendant of Indians who met the original Pilgrims over 300 years ago, just who cooked or who watched television was "an irrelevant matter."

"As an Indian woman, we are brave and strong and just don't get tied up in this sexist role. We had an ideal kind of family life - we do cooking, yes - and there is nothing wrong with that." she said.

Several Washington area feminists downplayed any sexist overtones to the Thanksgiving holiday.

"I don't think Thanksgiving is particularly sexist," said Sharon Flynn. a leader of the National Women's Political Caucus. "No more so than every Sunday afternoon and Monday night. In the list of things we're fighting for, getting men of stop watching football is not up there near the top."

Pauline Menes. a prince George's County delegate to the Houston international women's conference, in fact planned to watch a little football herself and scoffed at Thanksgiving sexism. "The only sexual thing about Thanksgiving for me is that I go out and look for a Tom turkey because they taste better." she said.

Audrey Ghizzoni, a Virginia delegate to the Houston conference, was looking forward to the long weekend's 36 hours of football. "I watch football all the time. I'm trying to get my husband to watch it with me but he always falls asleep."

Inside a complex of low-income garden apartments in Seat Pleasant, scores of residents huddled in front of their television sets tuned to football games.

"Football games." said Donald Lewis, 23, a shoe store employee, "are the most important event of the holiday. Without football there would be no Thanksgiving," he said.

At the Shirley Duke Apartments in Alexandria, a young woman carrying two sweet potato pies in a brown paper bag to a girl friend's house said her day would consist of dinner for her two children, chatting with her girl friend and - definitely - no football.

Her neighbor, Christianan Murphy, however, said she loved watching the football games. "Besides, there's nothing else to watch on television. I'll probably watch the games while I eat," she said.

At the Cold Duck Restaurant in northwest Washington, proprietors Jimmy and Angie geralis, closed their doors to the public and cooked their family Thanksgiving dinner at the restaurant. They invited the regular customers who did not have anywhere else to go on the holiday to have dinner with them.

And after the food was consumed, there was football on the bar television.

George Shields. at his home in Alexndria, said he would wait until the football games were over before he ate, adding, "I might get a piece of turkey at halftime."

Patrick Brown, 2 stone mason who lives in McLean, said he planned to fit Thanksgiving dinner in during halftime of the second televised game.

Said Charles Hammer of northeast Washington, "I don't think my wife minds doing the cooking for Thanksgiving. As for football games, when it's time to eat, I just bring the televsion into the dining room."

"We had just moved into this house last Thanksgiving, and he tried to help me cook the dinner then." said Sandra Hammer.

"We almost trampled each other to death - so we both figured it was best if just one of us did the cooking around here."

Assisting in the reporting of this story, which was written by Courtland Milloy, were Washington Post staff writers Patricia Camp, Vernon C. Thompson anf David A. Maraniss.