There were no bell ringers on downtown corners yesterday afternoon, and the only snow in sight was the shredded plastic in the department store windows. But in a secret room filled with presents at Woodward & Lothrop's, children were already plotting their Christmas.
Parents and other people older than 12 were denied entry to the little store, and children could shop in appropriate stealth.
Few of the young shoppers realized there were windows of one-way glass looking into the miniature store, but few of the parents realized either. By the time the children emerged, their presents were wrapped, bagged and hidden from the prying eyes of adults.
"I wasn't sure it was Christmas until I got to shopping," said 10-year-old Nikita Frazier, of Southeast Washington. Now, with a present for her mother she said she would hide in her drawer until Dec. 25, some lip balm for herself and some change left over for McDonald's, "it feels like Christmas."
Somehow yesterday, the spirit of Christmas managed to thrive in the balmy air.
Churches and community organizations held their Christmas bazaars. Across the river, at the Wolf Trap Farm's annual Christmas caroling gathering, more than 2,000 came to sing the season in despite Wolf Trap employe Greg Frank's concern that, "With this weather, it will be hard to sing carols."
But the event attracted one of the largest Wolf Trap crowds of the year, according to Wolf Trap employes, who said the merry carolers filed out of the Meadow Center there into 70-degree air carrying lighted candles and singing "Silent Night."
Back at Woodward & Lothrop's secret store, it was just as warm. "It's too hot for Christmas," complained one father waiting outside the miniature doorways for his children to do their shopping. "It doesn't feel like Christmas."
For the children, however, the thrill of the Christmas trappings made up for the weather. "It feels like Christmas because all the stuff is right here, wrapped up in all the paper," said Markita Finch, 11.
And the biggest thrill, everybody agreed, was the secrecy of it all. Finch said she always shopped in the store "because it's a secret place. If you want to buy someone something, it's a secret and they don't know." Finch said she had told her mother "I wasn't going to buy her anything--but I'm going to buy her something." She said she would hide whatever she bought under her bed until Christmas.
Kieran, a 5-year-old from Arlington who said she was not sure of her last name, and her stepsister Erica Hoffmann, 7, of Springfield, were also concerned about security. Kieran said parents never peek at their presents before Christmas. But Erica was just as certain that they "sometimes" do.
They roamed through the assortment of presents with the help of sales clerk Janet Edmunds looking for something to give their grandmother. "I'm going to get this," Kieran said, picking up a flashlight pen.
"That's for a man," Edmunds instructed, guiding the two, instead, toward shelves filled with perfume bottles and candy.
When a fatherly voice called "Hurry up" through one of the small doorways, the two girls quickly bought something much nicer, which will remain unidentified until Christmas.
"All the kids like it and enjoy it," said Michelle Robinson of Northwest Washington, who waited outside for her 6-year-old daughter Lakiah. "To them, it's important that it's secret. It's exciting. The kids are jumping up and down, and the parents are sitting, and they cross their legs and they get tired of waiting."
Susan Smith of Kent Island, waiting for her two daughters to buy their presents, said she remembers shopping in the secret store when she was a child. "I think shopping is good here," she said. "It makes you feel sneaky."