Karen Ratner and Jack Weller of Silver Spring left their own turkey in the oven while they delivered 12 other birds, 12 roaster pans of stuffing and 50 pumpkin pies to Lafayette Park to help feed homeless people who huddled there in a cold drizzle to get a free meal.
In Northeast Washington, the Rev. Eugene P. Brown and his wife, Catherine, served a dinner for more than 30 relatives. They sat down to a fine supper of rabbit smothered in gravy, but Brown, whose mother was out of town on a visit, said something was missing -- his mother's bread rolls -- "the kind you can smell all over the house when they're cooking."
And in Vienna, Balraj Sokkappa and three friends gathered with their families, as they have nearly every November since the four immigrants from India were college students in 1957. The dinner fare is always a mix of Thanksgiving and Indian specialties.
In settings such as these, and in a variety of others, with rituals old and new, with traditional food, and occasionally with unconventional fare, people around the Washington area celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. Families, friends and the seemingly friendless attended church, went jogging or served dinner to those who would otherwise have gone without dinner.
Many people enjoyed turkey with all the trimmings in their own homes. Others dined out on similar fare, free of the problem of cleaning up afterward.
At the elegant Hay-Adams Hotel near the White House, the vacationing B.J. Batchelder family of Peoria, Ill., Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and more than 200 other patrons dined during the day on venison pate, zucchini and grapefruit in raspberry and honey dressing and roast Vermont turkey with chestnut stuffing, among other choices.
"We came to bring the kids to Washington, D.C., for Thanksgiving vacation," said Batchelder, an advertising executive. Friends in McLean suggested the hotel restaurant and booked their favorite table there.
Hay-Adams patrons supped beneath crystal chandeliers and among fresh flowers and ornamental trees. Maitre d' Edward Brennan Jr. hovered nearby, and pianist Ramon Ballve entertained with "Autumn Leaves" and other soft melodies. For the mother of one regular customer, the restaurant fixed a special Thanksgiving basket and sent it to her Northwest apartment.
The idea of dining without dishwashing appeared popular. Many high-toned restaurants in the area were booked solid. But for those set on eating out but lacking the time or inclination for elaborate settings, there were alternatives.
"It isn't like home cookin', I gotta be honest," said Bill Strain of Richmond, who stopped in at Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Springfield. "But it's good."
At another table sat Brian Weldy, his wife, Roberta, and their infant son Shane. Brian Weldy, who is stationed at Fort Belvoir, said he wished he and his family could be with his parents in Ohio. But the Weldys said they were happy to be waited on.
"I didn't feel like cooking," said Roberta Weldy. "I had to work last night anyway, and by the time I got home all the stores were closed."
For the record, dinner at the Hay-Adams yesterday cost $40 a person, not counting the tip. At Bob's Big Boy it was all-you-can-eat for $5.95.
In what has become a seasonal tradition, some area residents enjoyed Thanksgiving dinners through the generosity of churches and other organizations.
For the 12th successive year, Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Washington served hundreds of diners, many of them homeless, unemployed or elderly. To create a family-style Thanksgiving for them, 150 volunteers from churches throughout the Washington area set up 33 tables, each with 10 places. A church volunteer sat at each table to carve the turkey.
The Rev. George Hill, Calvary Baptist's head minister, said the church actually served 100 fewer meals this year than last because so many other churches and groups are offering similar services. But he said the competition makes him happy because the need is great.
Hill said those who call upon the services of his church include the working poor. "Every year we see more and more people who are employed but who just can't make it in a high-cost town like Washington."
One such Thanksgiving visitor was Paul Queen, 38.
"I'm here because my house in Northeast burned down and now I live on the streets," he said. "And I broke my leg working construction so I can't work much. But I heard on the street that this was a good place to come."
Queen stayed to enjoy the variety show that followed the dinner. Several other men hurried out after the dinner, saying they wanted to get to Lafayette Park in time for another meal. "I did one this morning at another church, and then here, and then I'm going to Lafayette Park," said one man, who identified himself only as Billy. "This food will have to last me a week."
The Rev. Rodney Bolton, another church pastor, said he didn't care how many meals people ate in one day.
"These are our friends," he said. "They can pig out today and have a good time because we all know lean times are coming."
At Lafayette Park, more than 50 volunteers with the Community for Creative Non-Violence arrived with food prepared in the kitchen at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church. They were greeted by about 1,000 people, many wrapped in garbage bags against the cold and steady rain.
CCNV leader Mitch Snyder, surrounded by admirers, friends and reporters, declared the 8th annual dinner in the park -- the subject this week of Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury comic strip -- a success.
"We are here to tell the country that there are a lot of people who need help," said Snyder, holding a green plastic bag tight around his shoulders. "Just like the cartoon says, there are a lot of people out here with stories to tell about being hungry and homeless."
Snyder accused the Reagan administration, with which he is feuding over government plans to close a CCNV-run shelter, of "refusing to see what is right in front of them. Their nearest neighbor is Mary, a homeless woman who sleeps at the gate. They don't even see her."
Those receiving Thanksgiving meals in the park yesterday were encouraged to take away some "walking food" to get through another day. Robert Fitzgerald, 21, who lives in the CCNV shelter, didn't need much prompting.
He went through the Army-style chow line juggling six dinners packed in aluminum pans, a bag full of canned sodas and an umbrella. He said he would share two of the dinners with an elderly man who didn't want to leave the shelter and two with his best buddy. Two he would keep, he said.
Doug MacPherson, 36, said he once lived in the shelter but "got myself together" four months ago and is now employed again. He showed up yesterday to help hand out food.
"I know what it's like to have no place to go, no money in your pocket and nothing to eat," he said.
Things weren't that bad 28 years ago when Balraj Sokkappa and his college friends found themselves alone in the United States for their first Thanksgiving. Still, they appreciated it when Lorraine Kaimal, the American wife of another Indian friend, Chanbran, came to the rescue and showed them how to cook their first turkey.
The group still gets together. With expanded families and new friends, there were more than 30 of them this year. But only one 19-pound turkey.
"Most of us are vegetarians," Sokkappa said.
Tastes ran more to turkey among the senior citizens at the Heidelberg Restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. Owner Frank Piwowarski serves free Thanksgiving dinners every year to the elderly, most of whom live alone and are glad for some holiday company.
Robert Donohue, 80, whose wife died three years ago, called the occasion "very welcoming."
In Northeast, at the home of the Rev. Eugene Brown, the pastor of Christian Home Pentecostal Holiness Church of God of America, family was everywhere, and the feeling about Thanksgiving was pretty much the same.
"We can remind ourselves how fortunate we are and how much we have to be thankful for," said Andrew Brown, one of the pastor's brothers. "We have a chance to thank God for our family's health and strength. It's so many of us together, he's got to hear us."
Some Washington residents made room in the morning for the afternoon's dinner. About 1,100 of them took part in the 11th annual Turkey Trot, a five-mile road race in the Alexandria area.
One participant, Chan Mohney, 36, said he and Bandit, 6, his English setter, "always run together. . . . Tonight we will celebrate and we will both eat lots of turkey."