Yoni Kay, who works in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, sneaked into work slightly late yesterday morning, after stealing a few extra minutes at home to watch her 8-year-old daughter open Christmas presents.

"I had a flat tire," Kay said, winking.

Evalyne Swanson, a hostess at the Szechuan restaurant in Chinatown, invited her father and brother to have dinner at the restaurant so she could share a Christmas meal -- of sorts -- with them.

"Everybody else is off," she said mournfully. "Even the owner is at home."

Airline pilot Don Salmonson, making a quick stop at National Airport yesterday before taking his Trans World Airlines flight to New York, celebrated the holiday with his family at home in Nebraska on Dec. 22 -- a day that over the years has evolved into their traditional Christmas to accommodate Salmonson's schedule.

"It's about the 23rd time working Christmas in 25 years, so it really doesn't bother me," he said.

While most Washington area residents spent the day with friends and family, a skeleton crew of bus drivers, bartenders, firefighters, hotel clerks, drugstore cashiers and newspaper reporters remained on the job, sandwiching Christmas celebrations around work schedules.

At Nathan's restaurant in Georgetown, bartender Sean Goss simply stayed up all Christmas Eve, opening presents and watching movies on his mother's new video-cassette recorder, and he was planning, if he could keep his eyes open that long, to join his family for Christmas dinner after finishing work.

"This place has been open every single day for the past 15 years, so someone's got to work," said Goss, decked out in a Christmas tie of white holly leaves and red berries on a green background. How did Goss become that someone? "I only started working here three weeks ago," he said, "so I didn't get much say in the matter."

Paula Bailey, a registration clerk at the Key Bridge Marriott hotel in Rosslyn, had to work two holidays, so she picked Christmas and New Year's Day to have the chance to open presents with her family Christmas Eve and to party on New Year's Eve.

"Christmas Day everyone sleeps, so I figured I might as well work," said Bailey, who spent the day dreaming of the turkey dinner her mother was cooking at home in Falls Church. "I can't wait," she said. "Just thinking about it makes me hungry."

For many workers, the on-duty Christmas was cheered slightly by the prospect of overtime pay.

"I'm crying all the way to the bank," said Prince George's County police spokesman Debbie German, who earned time-and-a-half plus a day off for working the holiday shift.

"It's worth it -- I'm greedy," said Linda Brown, a Hertz "reservations representative" at National Airport, who planned to use the day's wages -- 2 1/2 times normal -- to pay off credit card bills she racked up buying Christmas gifts.

"I need the extra money," said Joe Landan, who was selling bouquets of irises and roses at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW in Georgetown. In addition to the double-time pay, Landan, a freshman at American University, expected a bonus: "When I get off," he said, "I'll ask the boss if I can take a bouquet of flowers home to my mother."

Christmas duty for most workers was far from arduous. The Szechuan served only 21 people at lunch, compared with the normal midday crowd of 150. At National Airport, where the Christmas rush had temporarily dwindled to a trickle, Hertz logged just 11 reservations for the day, the normal tally for an hour.

"It's extremely slow, extremely slow," said Monica Brown, a Maryland State Police dispatcher in Forestville. "I'm watching this clock and wishing it would move."

But area drugstores that stayed open for Christmas reported a midday rush, with the absent-minded coming in for batteries and film, and the think-ahead types taking advantage of sales on cards and wrapping paper to stock up for Christmas 1985.

Becky Burrington, head cashier at the Dart Drug store in Gaithersburg and a junior at Towson State College, said she welcomed the chance to work.

"Holidays are boring anyway," she said. "When you're in school, there's only so many times you can tell your relatives what you've been doing."