A line of nearly 1,000 people curled around downtown Annapolis yesterday, waiting to shake hands with Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and catch a glimpse of his mansion decked in its holiday best.

Neither disappointed: The governor smiled, traded friendly greetings and posed for photographs with visitors for more than two hours for the final time in his eight years as Maryland's leader. Behind him, visitors found their way to a long table of cookies and cider and listened to a school group singing holiday songs. Others caught a relaxing moment in the observatory, where the sun gleamed through the tall, broad windows.

"This is absolutely beautiful," said Nancy Dodson, 49, swirling around the mansion with her husband, Chip, 52, and their 12-year-old daughter, Laura. "It's an honor to meet the governor."

The open house is a state tradition, a chance for the public to walk through the halls of Maryland history and see where their elected leader lives. The mansion's normal stately look -- decorated with portraits of former first ladies and important Maryland figures, shining chandeliers and decades-old furniture -- was spruced up with a large Christmas tree in the entry hall as well as Christmas lights and trimmings throughout.

Many, if not most, of the visitors were parents and their children, whose Christmas tree decorations won them special invitations from the state. One of those was 8-year-old Mitchell Engnoth, who made a golden fish to adorn one of the state trees.

Mitchell said he came because he "wanted to see the house." But interest in the mansion's finer features seemed to slip his mind when he was told that there was a whole room full of cookies. Racing to it, the youngster barely had time to comment on the rest of Government House: "I think it looks real pretty," he said, disappearing toward the mounds of sweets.

The family circle was not entirely complete. Absent was Glendening's wife, Jennifer Crawford, 36, and their 3 1/2-month-old daughter, Gabrielle.

Glendening, 60, explained that Crawford didn't want their baby exposed to so many people because she is "very cautious about colds and flus." So, "she's walking around town . . . and I'm left here to do my job."

At least one man was bummed: "Where's the baby? I came here to see the baby!" he exclaimed upon meeting Glendening.

Festive as it was, the day was not all goodwill and cheer, as several visitors said that although they were happy to meet the governor and see his home, they were disappointed in his tenure and ready for him to leave. Some criticized his record on education and public safety, while others said they were put off by his divorce and marriage to a much younger aide.

"It's nice to meet him, and certainly he was polite," said Marlene Seese, 59, a teacher at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Baltimore, who came to support one of her students whose ornament was chosen to decorate the mansion. But, "I didn't see a lot of progress in eight years. I saw a lot of promises. We need someone strong with a new vision."

Asked what he thought about the Glendening administration, Laurel resident Jim McDonald, 61, said he had "no comment. It's the holiday season."

Some of the governor's supporters also dropped by. "I wanted to wish him well," said Margaret Prescott, 55, of Ellicott City, who said she voted for Glendening. "I'm sorry to see [the governorship] change from Democrat to a Republican. He was pushing Maryland forward in ways that I approve of on the environment and economy."

Glendening told Prescott and the handful of other visitors who asked him about his future plans that he will work on "environmental programs and environmental studies." In an interview later, Glendening said he'll be "working with an environmental group. I haven't made my final decision."

Regardless, the outgoing chief executive said he is sure of one thing: "I'll look forward to next year. A nice, quiet holiday with my family."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening greets the Schwartz family of Damascus: from left, Nicholas, 9, Annika, 6, Noah, 8, and their dad, Frank.Candace Marshall, 6, of Kensington, displays a Christmas ornament as her brother Phillip, 10, and sister Phoebe, 8, right, observe the festivities.