The Christmas story is never a single story, nor the recollection an isolated one. Every year adds another ornament to the collage of memories.
For some people, Christmas 1980 will be conspicuous among those memories.
"Christmas?Nah, it don't mean nothin'," said a 17-year-old boy at the juvenile detention center serving Montgomery, Garrett, Frederick, Allegany and Washington counties. He considered his statement for a moment and added, "The best Christmas present would be my dad coming to visit me. He might."
Few of the teen-agers in the Noyes Children Center will be going home today. The day passes like others.
There was a Christmas party at the center last week for the 27 youngsters, ranging in age from 13 to 18, who have been arrested for shoplifting, stealing purses, burglary and assorted other crime. Some have been charged with assault and battery and sexual offenses. They are waiting for court hearings or placement in a group home.
All but two are boys. They like looking tough, with T-shirts rolled up to show off trim midriffs, tattoos on their arms, cigaretts hanging from their mouths. Squad cars brought most of them to the brick building off Shady Grove Road in Rockville, driving into a paddock where gates slammed behind them.
"Hey, they're still kids," said volunteer Rosalyn Finkle as she stirred a pot of sloppy Joes. "We know why they're here, but people sometimes don't realize that although they did something outside the norm, they're still children. They're still kids. They should have the feeling that someone still cares about them and even if they're done something, there's still a chance."
Christmas cookies and punch went untouched the first hour while all attention centered on the sound system set up for rock and disco. Chairs were pulled up in front of the speakers, heels tapped the floor and cigarettes were passed back and forth.
One cherublic-looking lad of 15 with blond hair and blue eyes was arrested for assault and battery, he said: "Got into a fight with my dad, who was drunk and tried to hit me with a cutting board. I like it here better than at home."
They danced and laughed and told rambling tales of past adventures and unrealized hopes that wove a picture of typical teen-agers.
But at 9:30 p.m., as the last record was spinning on the turntable, these teen-agers lined up at doors on either side of the room. A staff member put a key into the lock, opened the door and the youngsters filed out, counting off as they went into the corridor. "One, two, three, four, five . . ."
To be 68 and a patient at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda at Christmas is not without pleasures for Murray Ferris, despite the onset of a muscular disease that slows his speech and dims his vision.
He hooked a poinsettia rug, played billiards and, with his wife on her way to Florida to spend the holidays with their daughter, settled down to take full advantage of the festivities at the hospital.
"I surprised myself at that Christmas party," said Ferris, of Sterling, Va., who has been at the clinical center since November with a muscle-weakening disease called myasthenia gravis. "Firstly, by dancing and secondly, my wife hadn't even left town yet and I was looking for another partner." He danced with a woman he described as "tall, well-built and wearing a sexy Christmas dress and black stockings.
"Her name? No, I didn't ask her for her name. After the dance I just said, 'Thank you and Merry Christmas.'"
At 18 and coming home for the first time from college, Jay Schwegmann and many of last June's high school graduates are a world of experience older this Christmas.
"College was all totally new. I was scared as I could be and wasn't sure what I would be getting into," said Schwegmann, a Northwood High School graduate and now a freshman at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. "There's a big difference from high school. High school teachers baby you a little more, but in college they treat you as equals and if you don't do the work, when test time comes you pay for it."
It was his longest stay away from home. "One night I was looking out the window and said, 'Hey, I'm 700 miles from home.' That's when homesickness set in." Coming home for the holidays meant he had made it through the first term, "the one they say is the hardest.
"When I saw that little green sign on the highway that said 'Montgomery County' I just sat back and wondered if I was dreaming. I couldn't believe it."
For Haihua Chang, 27, a Wilson College student visiting Frances and George Cressman in Rockville, it's a first Christmas.
She looks like an American coed with her corduroy jeans, softly curled jet-black hair and quick smile.
"I really feel we Chinese miss a lot by not having such a wonderful celebration. My mother used to tell me, 'Today is Christmas,' and I would say, 'Oh yes, I remember you told me last year about Christmas.' But I didn't feel anything then."
The Cressmans, who met Chang on an American Meteorological Society tour of China when Chang worked as an interpreter, loved watching Chang's startled reaction to the lighting of the Christmas tree.They couldn't wait to give her a Christmas stocking filled with such un-Chinese items as dental floss, ant traps for her dormitory room, a calorie book and a dictionary of American slang.
The Le family, Vietnamese refugees whose progress settling into U.S. life has been chronicled in two articles this year in The Washington Post, are celebrating their second Christmas in the United States.
The small, artificial tree on a table in front of the window is decorated with Christmas cards from friends made during their first year in the United States.
Two daughters have married and moved to Texas and California, the eldest son bought a car and moved into his own apartment in Washington and six young children are in school and making the most rapid adjustment to the new language and culture of anyone in the family.
Nhuong Le, the father, takes a bus into Washington every day to work at an automobile repair shop. The son comes every weekend to drive his mother to the supermarket. Life has taken on a routine that helps the Le family ease the transition from life in a farming village in tropical Vietnam, to the three-bedroom brick house in Wheaton that somehow never gets warm enough to warrant shedding jackets and sweaters.
They are curious about a Vietnamese man who poisoned himself and his family earlier this month, reportedly despondent over financial troubles and the difficult adjustment to a new country.
"Why did he do it?" asked Thanh, the eldest son. "Why does he kill his children? That I can't understand. For me and my parents, we are old and life is difficult here, but for the children, to grow up in America and go to school here, they can have everything. It's the best."