"Then on that same Christmas, during the family dinner, something else happened. The tradition was that the eldest member of the family cuts a big loaf of bread into pieces and passes the pieces to each member of the family. There is a coin in the bread and whoever finds it in his piece supposedly has luck for the rest of the year. Again, my grandfather would make sure that I would find the coin in my piece of bread.
"But that year, the very year I became convinced there was no Santa Claus, my grandfather stopped putting the coin in my bread. So it was a double whammy that Christmas."
Dr. John Money
Dr. John Money, professor emeritus of medical psychology and pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Hospital, recalls Christmas of last year as one of his most "joyous," thanks to some foreign students.
"Best Christmas? It was last year. I drove up to New York to pick up two young doctors who were arriving here from India to study with me for three months. And everything was so exciting for them: arriving at the Kennedy Airport in New York and their first sight of the city -- which was decorated for the Christmas season.
"We took the Queens Midtown Tunnel and just as we came out of the tunnel, lo and behold, there were snowflakes falling all over Christmas-decorated New York. These two young men who had come from the tropical part of India had never seen snow before. And there it was. Their first Christmas -- they were Hindus -- and their first sight of snow. We stayed in New York for the weekend with friends and it was very joyous."
Barbara Bostick, commissioner at the Baltimore City Jail, says this may not be the worst Christmas she ever spent, but it's the one she remembers:
"I come from a very large family -- there were nine of us and I'm the oldest girl -- and back when I was about 11 or 12, I decided one Christmas to bake a wonderful cake for the whole family. It was a huge coconut cake -- three layers tall. I still don't know what went wrong, but when it came out of the oven and I put all three layers together, the entire cake was only about 1 inch high. Maybe not even that. It was so heavy it could kill you.
"But I continued to prepare this cake, thinking somebody would eat it. I frosted it and put orange candy on the top. But the only one who would eat any of it was my father. My brothers and sisters were unmerciful about that cake. Actually, my cakes are still quite heavy."
The Christmas of 1961 was "by far, the worst Christmas I ever had," declares Elrod Hendricks, the longtime Orioles catcher who is now bullpen coach for the team.
At that time, he was playing ball in Puerto Rico, living on $300 a month; when Christmas came he only had a few dollars left -- not even enough to buy a $9 ticket for a flight home to St. Thomas.
"Three of us shared an apartment," he remembers. "The two other guys lived in Puerto Rico, and they went home for the holiday. I guess I could have borrowed the money from them, but I never asked them for anything. And I wasn't going to call my mom and ask her to send me money."
So he had no Christmas celebration at all. "I remember how lonely it was on Christmas, just being in that apartment all alone," he says.
New Year's Eve he decided to go out, and that was even worse. "I went to a restaurant where ballplayers could sign their name, and then pay on the first or 15th of the month. When I left, it was 11:30; I was going to catch a bus and go home."
But then all traffic stopped, as drivers took time out to celebrate; he walked the five miles home alone. "It was the emptiest feeling," he says. "I really wanted to cry. And I swore it would never happen again."
It never did. The following year he managed to go home to St. Thomas on Christmas. And on New Year's Eve, even now, he makes certain he won't be stranded away from home: He just doesn't go out.
Back in 1962, WBAL-AM talk show host Allan Prell was fired from an Oklahoma City station five days before Christmas. Waiting at home for Santa Claus were a pregnant wife and a 2-year-old son.
Recalls Mr. Prell, who was 22 at the time, "It was pathetic. I had no job, no income. Whatever money I had, I had to save to look for work. It was really a sick situation."
Adding to the despair was the knowledge that he had "screwed up" badly on the job. He was night man at an automated radio station, fell asleep and woke up to find the system was on the blink. He tried to adjust the equipment but failed, and all the commercials aired improperly.
"I really deserved to be fired," he says. "I guess the mind erases the worst part of your life to save your sanity. Today, I don't have one memory of that Christmas." Matters weren't as bad as they (( at first seemed, however. Shortly after the New Year, Mr. Prell was hired by a St. Joseph, Mo., radio station.
Sister Kathleen Feeley