Elsie Naftsinger and Jean Bechtold, old friends from Reading, Pa., never expected to celebrate Christmas in the plastic waiting room chairs of Washington's downtown Continental Trailways bus station.

For weeks, they had planned to join the "human Christmas tree" of gospel minister Jerry Falwall of Lynchburg, Va., who had charmed them with his late-night television sermons.

After spending most of Sunday on the bus to Lynchburg, they found when they arrived that they had missed the Sunday service at Falwell's Liberty Mountain Church. None was scheduled for Christmas Day.

So, after spending all of Christmas Eve inside a Lynchburg motel room while rain poured down outside, the two women found themselves waiting in Washington for a bus home yesterday. They had never seen Falwell or his church.

"We were going to stay straight through to Thursday," said Bechtold, who still wore green and red cloth Christmas bells on her lapel. "But everything closed up in Lynchburg today. We couldn't find a motel that would serve us Christmas dinner."

"It poured down rain the whole trip," added Nafsinger. "But we didn't mind. You can always have a good time if you really want to. We have Christmas in our hearts."

Bechtold and Naftsinger were not the only unwilling travellers trying to keep their spirits up amidst the cigarette butts and coin-operated televisions in the Trailways terminal yesterday.

Eddie Sosnoski, a retired Army master sergeant from Mt. Carmel, Pa., was thinking about the celebrations he was missing as he waited for a bus home.

"I guess they're all sitting down to eat about now," said Sonoski as he struggled with a fast-food lunch. "My wife and my relatives and my wife's relatives. That's when the fun starts. They'll start going out to visit friends, and laugh and hit the suds.

"I told them to go on without me. So they'll be bombed by the time I get home."

Sosnoski said he planned to call home every time the bus stopped. "But it hurts not to be there. I've been in the hospital and was supposed to get out last night. But I got held up, so I have to miss it today. It's hard to keep the spirits up."

Sister Charlene Marie, who was waiting for a bus to Waynesboro, Va., was equally anxious to be home. "I've got nine brothers and sisters at home waiting," she said."And I've got presents for them."

Sister Charlene said she had stayed in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve to attend the midnight mass at St. Joseph's Hospital, where she works. She had gotten to bed at quarter to 3 and gotten up at 7 to get on the bus.

But she was not discouraged. "Sometimes, it gets to you, sitting on the bus all that time on Christmas Day," she said. "But in the end, it's worth it all."