San Francisco and Las Vegas enjoyed a rare white Christmas while New York and Boston were left dry, as millions of Americans celebrated a holiday of joy and homecoming tinged with the remembrance of tragedy near and far.
For many, the day after Christmas meant relaxing amid shucked gift wrappings and turkey leftovers, but for the less fortunate Monday was a return to the streets or lonely prison life after an interlude of charity from fellow Americans."The giving spirit is definitely at a high," said Philip Bascom, a worker at the Greater Bangor Area Shelter for the homeless in Maine. "I think people are more sympathetic on Christmas."
And a great deal of sympathy was needed this year, many volunteers said.
"There are just so many more" homeless people, worker Joe Ferguson said at the Atlantic City (N.J.) Rescue Mission, where about 250 people gathered Sunday for ham and turkey. "It's been a bad year."
"We've never had this many people," said Ken Kruger, who runs the Volunteers of America residence in New York City. "Last year, we finished serving at 2 p.m." Toward evening, a line of homeless people was still three-deep around the block.
At New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, Cardinal John O'Connor led prayers in remembrance of the 258 people aboard Pan Am Flight 103 who were killed when the jet crashed Wednesday in Scotland. O'Connor said the faith of the families of plane crash victims was heartening.
"Thinking that I would console or encourage them," he said, "I found my own faith deepened instead, by their acceptance of suffering, their willingness to let whatever happens in this world happen, and to know that God still loves them very deeply."
Not all churches were bedecked with boughs of holly or other tokens of Christmas green and red. In snowless Massachusetts, wreaths in Armenian churches were wrapped in black in memory of the 55,000 people believed killed by a Dec. 7 earthquake in Soviet Armenia.
Doctors and nurses from Portland, Ore., who rushed to Armenia following the quake returned home Christmas Eve, saying they found the real meaning of Christmas in the hearts of the victims.
"The Armenians, despite the death and destruction within their lives, were magnificent and totally devoted to us and other foreigners who came to help them," said Northwest Medical Teams founder Ron Post.
In Hayward, Calif., Santa Claus suffered a setback when thieves stole more than $2,000 worth of Christmas toys bought by firefighters for needy children. But people who heard of the theft brought bikes, soccer balls, puzzles, games and other toys to the firehouse.
"We have received probably three or four times the toys that we started with," said Capt. Bruce Jones. "We just can't even express our gratitude to the people that came in."
A more permanent loss struck a family in northern Indiana, when six family members and a fiancee were killed in a traffic accident en route to a Christmas Eve celebration.
"It was a shocker," said Linda Fort, the sister-in-law of Laura Cites, one of the victims. "It just couldn't be worse. People are giving this time of year, but this really puts a damper on everything. It's still the Lord's birthday. And she is with the Lord. That gives us a lot of comfort."
A setback was suffered by members of the 70-year-old United Methodist Church in Ware Shoals, S.C., which was destroyed by fire Sunday hours after Christmas Day services concluded in the landmark building. The fire was believed to have originated in the electrical system.
Christmas Day in Georgia meant a feast for 30,000 needy people in Atlanta and peace and quiet after a Christmas Eve riot at the Hall County Jail.
"They were disgruntled," said Sgt. Ed Barfield. "It's overcrowded here; we've got them one on top of another. It's Christmas."
While the East Coast was dry, frosty yuletide temperatures led to Christmas Day snow flurries that dusted Las Vegas, San Francisco and low-lying Southern California foothills. Drifts made higher mountain regions impassable.
Snow closed Intnerstate 5 for several hours Sunday night at Tejon Pass north of Los Angeles, a major artery linking the north and south.
It was the first Christmas Day snowfall in Las Vegas since the National Weather Service started keeping records there in 1937, officals said.