Marge German, in her suburban Kensington home, listened to the television greeting from her hostage husband Bruce with a mixture of thankfulness that he was alive and torment at "the lump I could hear in his throat."
In Baltimore, Dorothy Limbert watched the flickering television image of her son John yesterday, and all it did was rekindle her anger at the "poor judgement used in the hostage situation."
Families of hostages from the Washington area, along with others across the country, watched with a mixture of gratefulness, anger and grief in the last three days as 41 of the hostages appeared on news films from Iran.
For some it was the first message of any kind received in months from their loved ones, who have been held for 420 days. On each of the last three days, groups of hostages have appeared either on silent film or film filled with Christmas greetings made in Iran and shown on the television networks here.
"Certainly, I took it as a positive sign," said Bonnie Graves of Reston, whose husband John, a public affairs officer at the embassy in Tehran, spoke a one-sentence Christmas greeting on a Friday broadcast.
"But it doesn't replace the fact that I can't reach out and touch my husband, or that my children and grandchildren have to do without him."
Still, Bonnie Graves, who watched at home with two of her six children, found some optimism in the situation.
"Perhaps in this season of light and hope in the world, we can hope to move on to something more positive in the negotiations."
Dorothy Limbert, whose son John had been assigned to Tehran as a political officer for the State Department, could find no such optimism after watching his brief message in an Iranian television broadcast relayed here by satellite.
"I just kept wondering how they must have felt in this season of peace on earth when they don't feel any peace inside themselves," she said of the hostages. "Each of them must be in such turmoil inside."
The film clips over the past three days have attempted to show the hostages in festive Christmas settings, some singing carols, some getting gifts, some sitting in a room with a Christmas tree adorned with decorations and a large yellow ribbon.
Marge German, who watched that scene on Friday, said "the whole thing seemed very staged, like a child's Christmas play where everyone is told what to do and say."
The family of hostage Alan Bruce Golacinski, a regional security officer, gathered in the family's Silver Spring home for the second Christmas without him.
"It was good to see him -- he looked pretty good physically, but also at the same time, it was frustrating to see him still there," said Michael Golacinski, a brother who was here for the holidays from New Jersey. "Seeing him just made the whole thing so much more vivid. We could see he was very frustrated."
Pearl Golacinski, a Montgomery County public school teacher who went to Europe earlier this year to solicit support for the hostages, said she was "too dazed" to react to seeing her son. It was the first time since last Christmas that she and her four other children had seen the University of Maryland graduate.
"It's just the beginning, it's just the beginning," Golacinski's voice trailed.
Another relative of a hostage, former Falls Church resident Rita Ode, spent Christmas alone in the new home in Arizona that she and her husband, Robert C. Ode, had contracted to build before the retired career diplomat was temporarily assigned to Tehran last year.
"He was only going for six weeks and was supuposed to come home in November . . . . This was supposed to be our retirement home," said Ode, who moved in April. "The house was already in the process of being built and was paid for so I had no other choice but to move. It's hard to move any time, but it's especially hard when you have to do it alone."
The brother of Falls Church resident Thomas E. Schaefer, a senior military adviser at the American embassy in Tehran, expressed more optimism than most upon seeing the telecasts.
"Just seeing him made me feel good," said the Rev. Richard Schaefer. "I've run the whole gamut of feelings -- from anger, hope, frustration, blame-laying -- but I've found that if I really stop to analyze what I'm feeling then the best bet is to go with hope."
From around the nation came a similar mixture of gratefulness and disappointment.
In Overland, Mo., the sister of Marine Sgt. Rodney Sickman could hardly contain her excitement at seeing a still photograph of her brother flashed on the television screen. "It's him. "It's him," cried Judy Ehlenbeck. "He looks good, real good. He looks healthy."
Whatever the varying reactions to the photos and films, one sentiment seemed present in all the hostage families.
As Barbara Rosen of New York City said after watching her husband Barry, "I don't want to see film clips. of my husband and the other hostages. bI want to see them brought home."