Family, parades, food, reverence for that long-ago harvest celebration in Massachusetts: Harvey Kilpatrick was having none of it this Thanksgiving Day. As he studied the horses for the fourth heat at Laurel Race Course, Kilpatrick, his father and a group of friends from Anne Arundel County discussed their bets and hoped for more than just mincemeat.

All that home stuff would have to wait.

"Go out and shoot some rabbits, come here {to the races}, then pop in around 2 p.m.: 'Hi, hon,' " said Kilpatrick, running down his day of hunting, gambling, and -- finally -- camaraderie with his girlfriend and his family. "I got a good horse in the next race."

Throughout the Washington region, residents lived out their versions of an ideal Thanksgiving Day, whether it was rooting at the city's high school football championship, trekking elsewhere to be with family, or helping to feed the homeless.

For as many as 1,000 area families with members stationed in the Saudi desert, absent loved ones and the possibility of war tempered the celebration, although special dinners and gatherings were held to ease the separation.

But with a crisp blue sky and temperatures in the sixties, this was not just a day for serious reflection. Direction came, perhaps, from imprisoned soul singer James Brown, who offered tape-recorded advice from South Carolina as part of an anti-violence campaign promoted by WPGC radio (95.5 FM). "Love one another, stay out of the streets, stay home, stay family . . . . Then you can say, 'I feel good.' "

For many, there were diversions from the annual national feast day. Youths dressed in shirt-sleeves pounded their skateboards through twists and turns on a plaza in front of the Warner Theatre in downtown Washington. A modest crowd strolled the Mall, giving thanks of their own for another touch of warmth before winter.

Even at the track there was holiday flair. Most of the 9,200 fans walked away with free pumpkin pies. Whether savvy promotion or peace offering for those left at home, it was reason enough for Chevy Chase lawyer Matt McCormick to tote his two children to the paddock so they could bet on 5-year-old Tim's favorite number, 6.

"We basically got kicked out of the house" until the holiday meal was finished, said McCormick, 40. "My wife said pick up a pie at the track."

"Come on, 6," shouted Tim.

The day dawned on a serious note. At sunrise, about 75 area residents met at the Sylvan Theater near the Washington Monument for the culmination of WPGC radio's "Stop the Violence" campaign.

The gathering was held to commemorate the more than 400 victims of violent crime in the District this year, and with the hope of making Thanksgiving a day free of bloodshed.

"On Nov. 22, 1990, we stood for something, we stood for peace," said radio host Robin Breedon.

But it was too much to ask. Early in the morning, separate incidents in Prince George's County and Northern Virginia left two people dead, including a police officer, and two others wounded.

Later in the day, the mood on the East Lawn of the U.S. Capitol was less somber, though the mission was still serious as volunteers from the Community for Creative Non-Violence prepared a traditional Thanksgiving supper for more than 1,000 homeless people.

As the crowd sang a sun-drenched rendition of "Singing in the Rain," volunteer Ed Downey, who also goes by "Moondancer," said volunteering in the homeless effort was second only to playing Santa Claus, a role his flowing gray beard helps him win regularly.

"This is what Thanksgiving is about," said Downey's daughter, Alison, who also helps at the event each year.

Serving the needy was a recurrent theme on a day established to give thanks for basics such as food, shelter and family.

Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Delaware Gov. Michael N. Castle served meals to hundreds of homeless and poor families in Baltimore and Dover, respectively. Jasper's restaurant in Greenbelt opened its doors to 200 senior citizens.

Meanwhile, Shirley Furbush, an advocate for the homeless, was trying to get her mind off food and onto shoes. After an early lunch, Furbush said she was determined to distribute the remaining 100 pairs of women's Nike's, donated by the company for poor families. She was down to the smaller sizes, and had crammed as many as she could into her car.

"I'm eating early so I can just drive up and down the street," looking for people who need shoes, she said.

Nor did everyone shun the day's traditions, chief of which is eating a lot, and not necessarily the traditional turkey and dressing.

"We have eggs Benedict, steamship round, seafood, trout, you have your yams, your sausage," Marcello Via, director of Wellington's in Silver Spring, said as he surveyed the restaurant's holiday buffet table. "Everything except the hog's head with the apple."