Sister Kathleen Feeley, president of Baltimore's College of Notre Dame, had her best Christmas ever last year, in the Bolivian leper hospital where her sister has been administrator for 23 years.
Getting there, however, almost made it one of the worst. "I flew down the night [the United States] attacked Panama," she recalls. "We were in the air when the pilot said the political situation was such that we could not land in Panama for refueling, and we had to head back to Florida."
But the next night she had a non-stop flight, and two days later attended midnight Mass -- held at 7 p.m. -- in the hospital, with the patients and the neighborhood people. Meeting them all was a "very moving" experience, she says: "They were so poor, but so full of happiness and love. I saw the essentials of loving and giving; it really makes you understand what Christmas is."
During the Mass itself, she had another gift: "A little child, a girl about 4, was sitting next to me, and she fell asleep. She was slipping off the bench. So I picked her up and held her all through the liturgy, this dear little Bolivian child. Having her in my arms through the Christmas liturgy was a special grace."
Gerri Kobren The Christmas best remembered by WJHU-FM personality Lisa Simeone occurred the year she was 12, when she was first allowed to clean fish with the grown-ups.
"For Italians, Christmas is really Christmas Eve, because that's the bigger celebration," she explains. "In my family, we always have an all-seafood dinner, 13 courses, with squid cooked four different ways, and cod, cuttlefish, smelts, sardines, shrimp, and some things I don't even know the English names of."
Dinner was for everyone -- parents and children, aunts, uncles and cousins. Cleaning the fish for the dinner was a family affair too, but one limited to the adults. "To be allowed to help clean the fish was a big treat," Ms. Simeone remembers. "It was fun, you'd make all sorts of jokes, and there was the anticipation, knowing how wonderful it was all going to taste."
Ms. Simeone's family is in Pittsburgh; she hasn't been home for Christmas for two years. On the air five days a week, noon to 6:30 p.m., she doesn't get much chance to enjoy traditional Christmas Eve dinners. She's not so keen on cleaning ink sacs out of squid these days, either.
"But the first time, it was a big deal," she says. "Then you get to be an adolescent, and you don't want to be all messy any more."