The song emanating from an Arundel Mills mall corridor encouraged shoppers to have a "holly, jolly Christmas. It's the best time of the year."
But outside it was raining, not snowing. A television in a mall sports bar was tuned to a news broadcast with the caption "The Hunt for Bin Laden."
It didn't feel very holly jolly.
"The weather is a little bit of a bummer," said Kevin Bidinger of Millersville, who went to the suburban mall yesterday with his wife, Kelly, and their three kids, ages 3, 6 and 7. Rain or not, the kids weren't going to accept excuses for slighting the holiday.
And, like thousands of other area residents, the Bidingers braved the elements, weather-related and otherwise, and made a commitment to the holiday spirit.
They took the children to see Santa Claus at the mall - where morning crowds were so thin that Santa sometimes sat by himself, drinking bottled water - and they placed paper reindeer antlers on the kids' heads.
As many shoppers attested yesterday, the balmy weather and the war against terrorism have given a halting feel to this year's holiday season.
Still, when the National Christmas Tree was lighted last week in Washington, enthusiastic crowds attended after officials decided not to declare the event off-limits for security reasons. And attention was focused on the jolly, bearded man in red - not on unseen enemies who might be plotting violent attacks.
Yesterday, similarly spirited crowds visited Evergreen House, a 143-year-old Baltimore estate on North Charles Street, when it and 10 other bedecked historic homes in the area offered holiday tours to the public.
"This just feels right," said Marc Steinberg, 30, of Baltimore as he gazed at poinsettias and listened to piano music in the high-ceilinged drawing room. Others who went said they were glad they forced themselves to get into the holiday swing.
"It just takes a little determination this year," said Melissa Reuland, a police researcher from Stoneleigh. She ventured out in the bone-chilling drizzle yesterday to buy a Christmas tree with her husband, Charlie, at the St. Pius X School lot. Profits from the lot's sales go to youth programs.
Like Kevin and Kelly Bidinger, the Reulands said they were drawn into the holidays by their children, Carolyn, 5, and Hannah, 3. "They're old enough this year to talk about what Christmas is all about - sharing," their mom said.
Carolyn watched in fascination yesterday as a Douglas fir was pruned at the lot and strapped to the top of the family's Dodge Caravan.
Charlie Reuland, a hospital administrator, said Carolyn has asked about the attacks on the World Trade Center.
He said the attacks have has created oddly mixed feelings for the holidays.
"You're not sure you ought to feel celebratory," he said. "But somehow it feels more special, too."
If the holidays feel different, it might be because people are more focused on meaning than they once were, said Betsy Taylor, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream, a Takoma Park nonprofit group that fights excessive consumption.
"I think September 11th was this colossal event that really forced all us to pause," Taylor said. "And what became really clear was that what mattered was friendship, community, being with loved ones, trying to be of some service. And that's really carrying through to the holidays."
After polling Americans about their attitudes since Sept. 11, Taylor said, the center concluded that people "don't want a holiday where they feel exhausted and financially strapped. They want something more than that."
Gene Condon, vice president and general manager of Arundel Mills, said recent balmy weather is affecting business in at least one area - winter coats. Many large retailers are expecting sluggish holiday sales compared to recent years, when the economy was in better shape.
Among those who headed out to the mall yesterday was Marcelle Leroux of Beltsville. But she didn't seem to be buying much. Asked if she was in the holiday spirit, she replied, "If we can afford it!"
Leroux said she was awaiting the visit of a handful of grandchildren for Christmas.
Every year, she and the grandchildren decorate her tree with an ornament she bought in 1951.
"We wrap it up every year in tissue paper and put it in the attic and then take it down the next year," she said.
That, to her, is Christmas.