Thousands of the poor, sick, homeless and hungry were showered with gifts, food and shelter - at least for one day - as millions of Americans put aside worries of war and recession to enjoy a Christmas Day of peace and giving.

Volunteers across the nation served up holiday dinners, sang gospel songs and even tested the blood pressure of the downtrodden, while families of servicemen in the Persian Gulf prayed for their loved ones' safe return."Most people at this time of year are selfish in one way or another," said Iqbal Emamudeen, one of about 135 volunteers who handed out turkey dinners to the hungry in Newark, N.J.

"You have to liberate yourself spiritually, emotionally and mentally," Emamudeen said. "I cannot change the world, but I know for a fact that I can make a difference."

In New York City, Mayor David Dinkins was among those serving dinners to the homeless, while the Citymeals on Wheels program brought food to some 6,000 elderly people too frail to go out.

Boston officials opened City Hall to the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and others who might otherwise spend Christmas alone.

"This really means a lot for our first Christmas in America," Phuong Ngo, a recent immigrant from Vietnam, said as he sat down for a turkey dinner.

In Atlanta, 5,000 volunteers dished out 47,000 dinners to the hungry and homeless at the Georgia World Congress Center. Volunteers also provided free haircuts and blood pressure tests as gospel singers performed.

San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church handed out about 6,000 turkey dinners to the homeless, while 50 miles south in Los Gatos, 17 families of soldiers prayed for their loved ones' safe return.

In New York City, Cardinal John O'Connor prayed for peace, and in Washington, D.C., political activist Dick Gregory demonstrated in front of the White House for a peaceful resolution to the Persian Gulf crisis.

Soul singer James Brown, serving a six-year prison term for assault, used part of his 72-hour Christmas furlough to perform for 4,000 soldiers at Fort Jackson, S.C. The soldiers' holiday leave was canceled because of the Persian Gulf crisis.

But Tuesday was also a day for old-fashioned fun as millions tried out new toys left under the Christmas tree, partied or took part in their own special holiday traditions.

In Lincoln, Neb., Barb Klimet's two children got up early to see which of the family's 12 Christmas trees Santa left the presents under.

"Christmas is always a neat time," Kliment said. "The lights were always a fantasy for me. This thing has just kind of mushroomed for us."