For many in Washington, Christmas was a time to feast heartily, festoon the floor with wrapping paper from just-opened gifts, and laugh with family and friends. There was a roast turkey dinner for a few guests at the White House, and a larger banquet for 800 homeless, lonely and elderly guests at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
But there were other kinds of Christmases, too: a solemn reunion at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a defiantly jolly day for an 80-year-old man on a heating grate, and a long-distance holiday for an Alexandria family far away from relatives in Pittsburgh.
The visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dressed in heavy winter clothes, streamed past the man and woman who quietly knelt in front of one of the black panels and placed a Christmas wreath and card against the polished wall.
For Richard Romejko, 37, of Philadelphia, it was a special holiday tribute to his high school friend Robert Groom, who had died in the war many years ago. Romejko and Groom had grown up together in Bethesda, had gone water skiing together, but had not gone to war together.
"He went and I didn't," said Romejko. "I wouldn't go for all the tea in China. But today is Christmas and I feel he and the others here deserve to be remembered."
The card that Romejko left at the wall said "Merry Christmas, Brother" on the front and inside he wrote, "Bless you before, bless you then and bless you now."
Romejko and his sister Lynn, both here visiting their family for the holidays, were among hundreds of visitors to the memorial yesterday, according to National Park Service volunteer and Vietnam veteran Bill Schorndorf, 45, of Alexandria.
"Christmas is always a busy day here," said Schorndorf.
Schorndorf was carrying in his pocket a card sent to the memorial by a schoolchild. It was addressed to Kevin O'Brien, missing in action in Vietnam.
The handmade Christmas card decorated with a wreath and two American flags said, "I am writing this with tears in my eyes. All I would like to say is have a very happy holiday. I salute you. Thank you for helping us save our country America!" The card was signed with the name Charles Ellis.
Schorndorf said he had placed other cards sent by children around the memorial but this one he would send on to the president.
Tom Sawyer, who turned 80 on Dec. 2, lounged comfortably across a hot air grate in front of the Department of Justice as he listened to Christmas carols on his battered portable radio.
Sawyer said he was enjoying the day because of gifts that people brought to him as he stayed warm in the freezing weather.
"This man got out of a car and gave me these mittens," he said holding out his hands to show off the homemade green and brown mittens. "The man said his wife weaved them and he wanted me to have them."
Sawyer said other people had brought him chicken, beef and cake. "I'm going to save some of it for tomorrow and give a little bit of it to the birds."
Sawyer said he wouldn't stay in a shelter, no matter how cold it got.
"I like it out here in the open air," he said. "Tonight I will move up to the Ellipse where there is a grate near the Christmas tree. I like to go to sleep looking at the tree."
President and Nancy Reagan celebrated a quiet and traditional Christmas Day with an exchange of gifts and a dinner of roast turkey, chestnut dressing and giblet gravy.
The president's daughter Maureen and her husband Dennis Revell joined the Reagans yesterday. Other guests, according to the Associated Press, included Dr. Richard Davis, Mrs. Reagan's stepbrother, and his family; actress Claudette Colbert, a family friend currently appearing at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; former Reagan aide Michael Deaver and his wife Carolyn; Nancy Reynolds, a friend of Mrs. Reagan; and Charles Z. Wick and his wife Mary Jane, longtime friends of the Reagans. Wick is the director of the U.S. Information Agency.
As they have in the past, the Reagans spent Christmas Eve at the Wick home.
Reagan ordered the lights of the National Christmas Tree dimmed briefly on Christmas Eve in remembrance of the Americans held hostage in Lebanon.
A 9-year-old mentally retarded girl from Chesapeake, Va., who said she wanted a permanent home for Christmas was reunited with her father for the holiday after a newspaper published a story about the foster child.
"It's a Christmas miracle," said Martha E. Houston, a social worker who had long sought a home for Yameka Marie, who has cerebral palsy.
The girl's father, who had been looking for her for seven years, saw her photograph last Thursday in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. He wept as he told city social workers that his search had ended at last, and the social workers said they cried along with him.
"I had just never given up looking for her," said the father, who asked that his name not be published. "She was always on my mind."
The youngster has been placed in her father's home on an extended visit while necessary legal checks are made.
The father, a Chesapeake industrial plant worker, told social workers he had visited the child every weekend until the mother moved away seven years ago. Repeated efforts to trace her failed, he said.
He never knew the girl had wound up in the care of social services until he saw the newspaper item, he said.
"Yameka was so enthused about going with her real daddy," said Houston. "She understands that he is her real father, and she even looks like him."
Dan Fisher, tall and in his twenties, was just a tad bothered by having to work the Christmas Eve to Christmas morning shift as a security guard at a ritzy downtown hotel.
"Kids don't know how great they have it -- Christmas vacation, summer vacation. Ah, well, I have the next two days off," said Fisher.
Like Fisher, hotel and other service workers throughout the Washington area were pressed into service yesterday, the holiday notwithstanding.
For some, holiday work was voluntary. About 50 people worked as ushers for services on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning at the Washington Cathedral.
"This is a way of giving a part of yourself back into the community in a constructive manner. The theme of the cathedral is that it's a national place of worship for everyone and that's important to me," said Kenneth R. Allen, 43, of Alexandria, who has ushered at cathedral Christmas services since 1980.
Making the special services run smoothly -- attended by an estimated 10,000 people -- is a labor of love.
"The main thing really is the logistical problem of moving people to the communion rail and seating people and answering a lot of questions really. I also am one of those trained to do CPR cardiopulmonary resuscitation in case someone has a heart attack," Allen said.
The sidewalk outside the drugstore near Thomas Circle is the business address for Edward Hardy, 39, who has been selling toys there for 12 years.
Hardy, who was arranging dozens of colorful boxes on his folding table mid-afternoon on Christmas Day said he was sure he would sell a lot of transformers and robots before he closed down at 10 p.m.
"All those people who waited till the last minute and then went into the department stores and got frustrated by the crowds and didn't buy anything, will wake up today and realize they have to get some toys," he said. "And I will be here waiting for them."
Hardy said that this had been a good year for him because he was able to get his two children just what they wanted for Christmas.
Did he give them something from his table?
"I went shopping in the department store," he said. "I wanted to get into the spirit of it all so I went to a store. It just wouldn't be the same if I simply took something from the table for them."
Six-year-old Michael Cekala smiled bashfully in a Washington hotel room to show his missing teeth. Connected by a video teleconference line more than 200 miles away in Pittsburgh, his grandparents laughed with delight.
"All's he wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth," chimed in Michael's older brother, Matthew.
The two boys and their parents, Pentagon Staff Sgt. Walter Cekala, 29, and Patty Cekala, 30, of Alexandria had last seen their relatives at Thanksgiving. A limited budget and limited leave time meant they could not return for Christmas, but they got the next best thing: a USO-sponsored video visit with his parents, her parents, her grandparents and his sister and brother-in-law.
"Sit up straight," Cekala quietly warned a squirmy Michael, who slid around in his brown velvet chair. "Remember, he can see you."
The Cekalas and their Pittsburgh relatives chatted mostly about family affairs: who got what for Christmas, plans for fishing and hunting, the snow in Pittsburgh. All this was recorded by a battery of television cameras and monitored by employes of the Washington Hilton, which provided the room.
Cekala ribbed his father-in-law about his deer hunting -- warning him to leave Santa's sleigh alone -- and blew his mother-in-law a kiss, courtesy of AT&T.
Cekala, comparing the teleconference call with the prospect of a five-hour drive and two restless children in the back of the car, said afterward that the half-hour electronic experience had been "fantastic."
Matthew, as 8-year-olds often do, made a joke.
"I didn't like it," he said.
"I loooved it."
One hundred volunteers showed up at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington to help serve 800 turkey dinners and hand out hundreds of winter gloves.
The 10th annual dinner was given for the "shelter people, the refugee families, the lonely and the elderly," according to John Alvarez, spokesman for the group.
The gloves, ranging in color from pink to black, were donated by the United Way, said Alvarez.
Among the volunteers was dentist Don Thompson from Mount Vernon who, along with six friends, made about 100 dozen cookies and several fruitcakes.
Thompson arranged his decorated cookies on several platters and watched with delight as people took handfuls.
He also put out a carton of cigarettes that he said went quickly.
"I feel great," said Thompson. "I was so afraid no one would take them and now they are half gone. I truly do believe that it is better to give than receive."
It is Hugues Pauzner's custom to be in unusual places come Christmas -- last year he was on a 20-foot boat, sailing between Senegal and Gambia.
So when he found himself the sole guest yesterday in a rambling $15-a-night rooming house on Columbia Road, the 28-year-old Frenchman who divides his time between traveling and running a clothing boutique at a seaside resort in Cape D'Agde, shrugged.
"Christmas is not important to me, first because I am not religious. But even for people who are not religious, Christmas is a family happening -- a way to meet and give presents. But my family is exploded," he said, explaining that his five brothers and sisters are scattered among three countries.
For the months between October and March when his shop is closed, Pauzner travels the world.
"I'm the kind of plant, you stick it in a pot, it just dies," Pauzner said in thickly accented English.
On Christmas Eve, he toured museums, returning twice to his favorite, the Air and Space Museum, and went to the Washington Cathedral after dinner with newly made friends. Yesterday, after Christmas brunch, he went to his room to bring his travel journal up to date. Later, he said, he'd see a movie.
To cap the day, Pauzner said he might challenge the manager of the rooming house to a game of chess -- the pair's fourth in the two days that Pauzner has boarded at "Two Thousand Five" Columbia Road.
Uptown amid a bit more elegance, another adventurer found himself an unwitting hostage to a hotel when a real estate deal in Alexandria that he was trying to close on Christmas Eve was delayed.
"I could have tried to race home to Florida late Tuesday, but since I have to be in Alexandria by 9 o'clock on Thursday and I travel so much anyway, that was the last thing I wanted to do," Mark Ellert, a Fort Lauderdale hotel developer said in a telephone interview from his room at the Grand Hotel, formerly The Regent, on M Street NW.
And like Pauzner, Ellert really doesn't mind being away from home for the holidays.
"I kind of like it really -- it gives me a chance to sleep late, which I never get to do and to see how other hotels are run," Ellert said. "This is the slowest week of the 52 for hotels."
For David Sobel, who is Jewish, Christmas was just a lucky strike extra day off, a chance to get some chores done.
"I have no family here and the woman that I live with is at home in Utah with her family," Sobel said yesterday as he sat in an Adams-Morgan restaurant, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. "I live down the street and I'm just waiting for my laundry to get finished so I just want someplace warm to get coffee -- that's a pretty colorful Christmas, huh?"
Edis Cabrera barely had time to be homesick for Christmas in El Salvador yesterday as she served smiles, cerviche and steaming bowlsful of Sopa de Res to a holiday crowd at El Tazumal Restaurant on 18th Street NW.
"I'm happy to be here," she said in Spanish.
Dozens of Washington area Latins filled the Adams-Morgan restaurant -- one of the few open for Christmas business -- throughout the day.
Manual Majano, 19, and his brother Julio Blanco, 18, came for lunch with their 32-year-old friend Arnoldo Benitez.
Benitez, his taste changed after four years here, sipped a Budweiser.
Majano, who arrived eight months ago, and Blanco, who has been here just three months, slurped an iced drink of sugar, milk and fruit through straws.
"This day would be more happy in Salvador because we would be united with our families," Majano said in Spanish.
So how did they spend their first Christmas in the United States?
"I did nothing but sleep," Majano said, cradling his head with his hands.
"Me, too," Blanco laughed.