The 40 county workers gathered in the lobby of the Arundel Center, bundled up and wearing their walking shoes.
The jokes started flying even before the Christmas procession, led by the power-walking county executive, could even get out the door.
"Why aren't we having a Christmas steak dinner?" asked Jerry Klasmeier, who works in the central services office. "Why are we having aholiday walk?"
"Those days are over," replied Louise Hayman, County Executive Robert R. Neall's press secretary.
And with that, Neall -- dressed in green-and-white walking shoes and a black Maryland State Trooper jacket -- entered the room and issued his command. "OK, maggots, line up!"
Christmas cheer in the county executive's office.
But while hard budget times may have solidified Neall's frugal reputation, the workers who joined him Friday on the 30-minute trek around the U.S. Naval Academy -- donating food to the needy and partaking of the hot apple cider and cookies that passed for this year's holiday bash -- didn't seem to mind.
"We had a good, healthy walk," said Dottie Frazee, an administrative secretary. "That is what Christmas is all about, being together."
The idea for the walk came fromNeall's receptionist, Barbara Schlossman, a self-described power walker, who wanted to do something different for the frugal Christmas party made necessary by hard financial times.
With county employees taking pay cuts, Neall didn't think it would be appropriate to throw a lavish party or buy decorations.
The procession walked, sometimes two-by-two, from the Arundel Center to the Naval Academy and back. Along the way, the walkers talked, cracked jokes and listened as Neall told some Christmas stories.
There was the time the county executive worked in a store in Davidsonville. He had a small fake Christmas tree that he pulled out when the season came around.
Neall always left it decorated. "I pulled off the trash bag and thereyou were, instant Christmas."
The county executive said he tries to walk during lunch every day. "A lot of us here walk," he said. "We pass each other coming and going, but I don't think we've ever done it together."
And being together means joking together. Neall kidded about shooting a giant Frosty the Snowman with a howitzer and chided Hayman for getting too much into the Christmas spirit.
"Louise is wimping out on me," he said. "She's wearing red and green and she's humming Christmas carols."
"I am doing no such thing," Hayman retorted.
"People just haven't got used to my sense of humor yet," Neall answered.