Gov. William Donald Schaefer is not sending Christmas cards as an austerity move this yuletide, but he maintained his annual tradition of a holiday open house yesterday at the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis.
"It's an up day," said a jovial Mr. Schaefer, shaking hundreds of hands with a near-steady parade of citizens walking through the entry hall. "It's not a down day. I feel good."
During the same period in Baltimore, an estimated 1,000 people filed through the gold-colored doors of City Hall to extend holiday greetings and shake hands with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and his wife, Patricia, in a similar annual tradition.
The mayor's holiday reception, this year dubbed "People helping people," featured six choirs and, outside, ROTC drill teams and high school marching bands.
Things were more subdued at the Governor's Mansion, which was decked in garland and red ribbons. Only the St. Mary's College Chamber Singers offered visitors Christmas carols.
At times, Mr. Schaefer was joined in his receiving line by longtime companion Hilda Mae Snoops, who has been out of the public spotlight for more than a year because of illness.
"I'm making progress and feeling well," said Mrs. Snoops, 67, who remained seated for most of her appearance at the start of the open house. She declined to divulge her illness, and she left the receiving area before the open house ended.
"Let's just say I had a medical condition," she said. "I was very sick."
Those familiar with past mansion Christmases said lines were shorter this year compared to last December, when well-wishers lined up from the entry hall to the wrought-iron fence. About 1,500 people toured the decorated mansion yesterday, said Frank Traynor, the governor's press secretary.
If the crowds were smaller this year, so were the complaints.
Last year, about 200 protesters stood outside the holiday affair to express outrage at the administration's decision to cut health programs. No protesters showed up yesterday.
"Not one person has had a nasty remark," said Mr. Schaefer, who between well-wishers successfully led some of his staff in rounds of "WeWish You A Merry Christmas."
Despite the festive atmosphere, Mr. Schaefer had some serious wishes for the holiday.
"My wish is that the recession would end," the governor said. "And that people keep their jobs, have good health and a home. I'd like to see people show more compassion for others."
Mr. Schmoke, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, laughed. Really, he told his press secretary later, he wants a pro football team.
According to Santa Claus, who took requests from city residents next to a gaily decorated Christmas tree in City Hall's rotunda, Baltimore children want some of the same things as children everywhere: Nintendo games, computers, G.I. Joes and "lots of baby dolls."
Adults had larger dreams: "Some want a new car, some want a new house, and one wanted a new boyfriend," Santa said.
"I'm going to have to work hard on that," said Santa (alias Jim Scales, who works in the mail room at City Hall and serves as chauffeur to the mayor).
Melvin Robinson, who is 78, stood transfixed before a set of trains, winding through storybook towns on hundreds of feet of track -- courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum -- under the City Hall Christmas tree.
"I'll take one of these," he said, when asked what he wanted for Christmas. "It brings back a lot of memories."