An international airport on Christmas Eve is a kaleidoscope of all that is joyous and agonizing about Christmas.

For those flying home to be with families, holiday anticipation reaches its zenith with the flurry of cries and hugs at the arrival gate. For those who disembark alone, the loneliness that remains on the fringe of life during the rest of the year can wash over them as they maneuver through the sea of people who came to the airport to see someone else.On the day before Christmas at the Salt Lake International Airport, John Brens sat in a waiting area in Delta terminal, prior to his flight to Calgary. After spending six weeks in Salt Lake City on business, he was eager to be home. His three children would be waiting for him at the end of the two-hour flight, he said. He shopped for their Christmas presents in Salt Lake City and sent them on to Calgary.

With his business done, his Christmas in order, his ticket in his pocket and his children crazy to see him, the only thing that stood between him and the perfect Christmas was the laggard ticking of the clock.

A few feet away, Sharon LaCroix concentrated on the blue sweater she was knitting. She was waiting out a four-hour layover in Salt Lake City on her way from El Paso, Texas, to Edmonton, Alberta.

"Two weeks ago, my husband told me he didn't want to be married to me anymore. He didn't want to spent the holidays with me. He didn't even want to see me again," she explained. It was hard to talk without crying. She had to stop every minute or so to regain her composure.

She and her husband moved from Edmonton to El Paso nine months ago when he got a job there. She hadn't lived there long enough to make close friends. "Just a couple of ladies at church," she said.

So she was going back to Edmonton for Christmas. She had old friends there.

The flights weren't too bad - only a couple of hours each, she said. But the four hours in a strange airport on a holiday was rough.

"We used to come here together to go skiing," she said, nodding toward the window that faced the Wasatch Mountains. "We used to go to Deer Valley a lot." Her voice clogged with tears.

It was hard not to think. And thinking only made her cry. So she knitted. The airport was busy for a Saturday. "Busier than I thought it would be," said a guard at the metal detector gate. "Too busy."

The Naiman family - mom, dad, four kids, a brother-in-law and two sisters-in-law - were among the hundreds at the airport on their way home from a skiing trip to Utah.

"An avalanche came down and trapped us in a condo yesterday, so we had to stay in our condo all day and watch the blizzard," Pam Naiman said. This was the family's second sojourn to Utah's snow.

"This is the best snow," Pam said. "It's unbelievable."