Rene Krethen of Columbia said she would have spent yesterday in Baltimore with her family, looking at the Christmas garden at the Glen Avenue firehouse and then eating at a Jewish delicatessen.
Mel Goldstein said he would have spent the day writing a report for his synagogue. And David Zinner said he would have gone with friends to a Chinese restaurant.
They all faced the annual dilemma for Jewish families: What to do on Christmas Day? This year, they joined about 300 others gathered at the Oseh Shalom synagogue in Laurel to celebrate their Jewish culture.
"It's a good opportunity for people who might otherwise do absolutely nothing today," said Mr. Zinner, treasurer of the Jewish Council of Howard County, which sponsored the event. "It's a day when people need to be in touch with their own traditions and culture, and this is a way to do that."
Yesterday's Jewish Festival Day, featured Israeli dancing, crafts for the children and films with Jewish themes for the adults. Similar gatherings are held in other communities across the country, but this was a first for Howard County, Mr. Zinner said.
In the craft room, parents sat at the tables working with their children to make Kiddush cups, used to drink ceremonial wine on the eve of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. The children used plastic cups, aluminum foil and colorful ribbon.
Organizers said a priority for the event was to provide an opportunity for families to spend time together.
"When everyone else is with their family celebrating a non-Jewish holiday, it's something to do here to celebrate with Jewish families," said Judy Kerbel, a Silver Spring computer operator and research analyst who also teaches Israeli folk dancing. "It's a sense of community, especially a sense of Jewish community."
But Mr. Zinner emphasized that yesterday's gathering was "not an alternative Christmas for Jews, because this is not our holiday. . . . I think we're careful about sensibilities. A lot of people would strongly object to this being called an alternative celebration."
"But on the other hand, everybody is off work, the kids are off school," and there is often little for a Jewish family to do, Mr. Zinner said. "I don't think it's so much that people feel left out, but that people are bored."
Many Jews offer to work on Christmas Day so that Christian co-workers can take the day off and spend it with family. "It's almost become a tradition in the community that this is a good thing to do," Mr. Zinner said. "It's often startling for Christians to find there are people who don't mind working on Dec. 25 at all."
It is also common for Jewish families to spend the day working on social service projects, volunteering in soup kitchens or visiting hospitals. "And a lot of people did that before they came here," Mr. Zinner said.
Based on yesterday's response, organizers said they hope to make the festival day an annual event, which was music to Mrs. Krethen's ears.
"It's wonderful, because every year we come into Baltimore for Christmas for something to do," she said. "There is finally something in our community, in our neighborhood."