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Military Brings Taste of Christmas to War Zone; Mumbai Victims Memorial; Humanist Holiday; Top Ten Political Stories of '08

Aired December 25, 2008 - 11:00   ET


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it is Thursday, December 25th. And we have a lot to tell you on this day. We've got some stories, as you welcome us in to your living room, in front of your Christmas tree. We hope you're having a very good 25th.
You know the foreclosure business is a tough one, especially this time of year. Meet a family that got kicked out of their home on Christmas Eve.

Then, seven long years as a hostage. Today, this man is celebrating his first Christmas since he got his freedom back.

Hey, good morning to you. And Merry Christmas again. We hope you're having a very good morning.

For you out West, it's about 8:00 a.m.; 11:00 a.m. out East.

I'm Richard Lui in for Tony Harris on this day. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Planes in the air, holiday travelers on the move. Just look at that screen there. You are looking at our CNN Flight Tracker.

Many people who have been strand by winter weather are hoping to make it to their destinations this Christmas Day, flying in the sky at the moment. But flight delays and cancellations have disrupted a lot of holiday travel plans. Chad Myers will be joining us with weather, as well as what's happening in the sky, for us shortly.

Now, problems at the nation's second busiest airport is what we want to talk about right now. It's adding to the travel troubles.

A passenger jet slid off the runway as it was taxiing into a takeoff position last night at Chicago's O'Hare airport. An FAA spokeswoman says the American Airlines plane hit an icy patch and skidded into the grass next to the taxiway. No one was hurt.

Then in a separate incident, another jet, also an MD-80, had to return to O'Hare shortly after takeoff because of engine trouble there. If all that wasn't enough, some passengers were still stuck at the airport because of the weather.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if we can't get a flight, then most likely we're heading back to New Jersey. And that would just would suck considering it's been cold and we've had a long, long, long day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don't want to spend my Christmas here. We're supposed to be on the beach tomorrow!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And not at O'Hare airport?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, definitely not.


LUI: All right. Well, we hope that you are in the sky getting home.

Meanwhile, the charred wreckage of a plane that careened off a runway in Denver, it will not be removed until after Christmas. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused this accident. And so far, they have not found any problems with the plane's engines, brakes or landing gear. All 115 passengers and crew managed to escape. Thirty-eight people were hurt, four are still in the hospital.

Officials are still trying to figure out how de-icing fumes got into a plane at the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. The Alaska Airlines jet was getting ready for takeoff when fumes got into the cabin. More than two dozen people were treated for eye irritation. Seven crewmembers were taken to the hospital for treatment.

A deadly turn to holiday festivities in suburban Los Angeles to tell you about now. Police are searching right now for a man that came to a Christmas Eve party dressed as Santa, and then started shooting at guests.

Authorities arrived to find a home in flames and at least three people dead inside. The causes of death still not clear. Three others at the home were wounded, including an 8-year-old girl. A police lieutenant in Covina describes the scene.


LT. PAT BUCHANAN, COVINA, CALIFORNIA, POLICE: As officers were arriving in this neighborhood, they heard additional gunshots coming from the residence, and also observed that the residence was engulfed in flames. There were numerous people that were exiting the residence and meeting with the officers as the officers were approaching the house. And they were told that a person had come to the house dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, and upon entering the house had opened fire.


LUI: Police say they are searching for Bruce Jeffrey Pardo. They are calling him a person of interest.

Well, President Bush is spending Christmas at Camp David with his family. They will feast on a traditional holiday meal of turkey and dressing. The president spent part of Christmas Eve phoning U.S. forces stationed around the world. The White House says he thanked the troops for their continued sacrifices and wished them a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Then President-elect Barack Obama, his Christmas plans include opening presents and enjoying a traditional turkey and ham dinner. He also took time out to record a message of thanks to U.S. troops and their families.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Many troops are serving their second, third, or even fourth tour of duty. And we are reminded that they are more than dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard. They're devoted fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.

This holiday season, their families celebrate with the joy that's muted knowing that a loved one is absent and sometimes in danger. In towns and cities across America, there is an empty seat at the dinner table. In distant bases and on ships at sea, our servicemen and women can only wonder of the look on their child's faces as they open up a gift back home.


LUI: Obama and his family are vacationing in Hawaii.

Well, let's take you to the Middle East. U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are no doubt missing their families back home this holiday. They cannot feast on mom's turkey dinner, unfortunately, but the military is trying to bring a little taste of Christmas to the war zone.

Our Jill Dougherty takes us to Camp Liberty in Baghdad.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we're talking with Sergeant 1st Class Demitress Jackson. He's the manager of the DFAC (ph), these dining facilities here.

And tell me, this is a big production.


DOUGHERTY: I mean, how many meals are you going to make?

We're probably going to serve about 3,500 soldiers today.

DOUGHERTY: Really, 3,500? And how long does it take to prepare for all of this?

JACKSON: Well, including the decoration, the decorations can take months. But usually the preparation of the decorations, the meal itself, all together, we start about early to late November. And it goes on with the Styrofoam, the painting. Then a meal is prepared, of course, tonight before, you know, as early as 05:00 in the morning.

DOUGHERTY: And how many staff do you have working and cooking?

JACKSON: We have 150 GCC workers, along with 18 -- right now we have 18 food service personnel that are military, including myself. Another assistant of mine, and then we have about 16 E6s (ph) and below that are working on this.

DOUGHERTY: Boy. So it really is a big operation. Do you have to order in special food or is this kind of...

JACKSON: Yes, this is food out of Kuwait. And it's shipped. And like I said, we order it, and then we get pieces of it come in. And we go to the inventory, make sure we're getting all those special items, especially like the turkey, the fresh turkey and things of that nature.

DOUGHERTY: Fresh turkey. Not dressing?

JACKSON: We have fresh turkeys like mama would make it.

DOUGHERTY: You can see the line is getting pretty long here in back of me. They're all waiting in line to get this Christmas dinner complete with turkey. And it's not only the people who eat here in the dining facility that get dinner. They're actually going to pack it up and deliver it to some of the soldiers that are at forward operating bases outside.

This is a real Christmas dinner. They have down here prime rib, roasted turkey, smoked turkey, baked ham, fried chicken, cornbread, and they even have crab legs.

And believe it or not, this is actually ice in Iraq. One of the chefs is able to sculpt all of this, but I think it's already melting.

And what's Christmas without some Christmas carols?


LUI: And Merry Christmas to all who are there.

You know, Britain's Queen Elizabeth focused on the global money crisis in her Christmas message today. The royal family attended Christmas Day services near the queen's country estate in Sandringham. That's a bearded Prince William you see walking into St. Mary Magdalene Church.

The queen smiled and waved when she arrived, but she was noticeably downbeat when she appeared on British television last hour.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II, UNITED KINGDOM: Christmas is a time for celebration. But this year, it is a more somber occasion for many, some of those things which could once have been taken for granted suddenly seem less certain and naturally give rise to feelings of insecurity. People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world. Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home.


LUI: Like the United States, unemployment is rapidly rising across Britain and several venerable stores and firms have collapsed in financial ruin.

Tourism is up considerably this Christmas Day in Bethlehem though. Worshippers gathering at the Church of the Nativity. It sits on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born. Bethlehem saw an uptick in tourism this season for the first time since the 2000 millennium. That's due to relative calm in the West Bank.

And a message of hope and a caution against selfishness from Pope Benedict XVI. In his Christmas message, the pope said if people only look to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart. The pope also offered words of encouragement during difficult economic times.

Now, Vatican security responded to a brief scare though following the pope's Christmas Eve message. One woman wearing red jumped a barrier and was quickly tackled. Watch the bottom right-hand side of your screen. A Vatican spokesman says the woman did not appear to pose any risk.


LUI: At least 17 people are dead after a series of explosions tore through their apartment building today. It happened in the Ukrainian town of Yevpatoriya on the Black Sea. Children are among the victims.

Officials suspect a gas leak caused this blast. Hundreds of rescuers are searching for people still trapped beneath the rubble there.

A solemn ceremony today in remembrance of a rabbi and his wife killed in the Mumbai massacre. The couple used to mark Hanukkah every year lighting a giant Menorah for the community.

Sara Sidner is live in Mumbai with the story on what they're doing now.

Hey, Sara.


Yes, family, friends and some colleagues gathered here in Mumbai. They gathered at the Gateway of India and at the Chabad House to mark a very solemn day. Some traveling all the way from Israel.

They came to offer up light to a place that has suffered the darkest of days. Outside the Gateway of India and of the Chabad House, lights on a 25-foot steel Menorah were lit today.

Now, the Chabad House still bears some of the scars of the attacks on Mumbai that lasted three days and that happened just last month, almost a month ago to the day. In the Chabad House itself, six people were killed, including Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, which in turn left their 2-year-old toddler baby Moshe an orphan.

Now, the father of the slain rabbi's wife lit the Menorah outside the Gateway of India. And as you mentioned, that is something that the Rabbi Holtzberg himself and his wife would do in Hanukkahs past. And it's also a place that is just outside the Taj Mahal Hotel and tower, which was also one of the places attacked in Mumbai last month.

The slain rabbi's father, himself, Rabbi Holtzberg of New York, lit the Menorah outside the Chabad House, saying it would spread light over the Chabad House and help it to rebuild. And so that indicates that they are planning to rebuild this five-story house that was hit by terror on November 26th.

LUI: Sara, it is now been a month. Many of our viewers remember that you were live on the scene reporting as this story was developing. How have things changed in this one month, would you say?

SIDNER: Well, I think what's happened is there has been a great gathering of people. A lot of people are saying that young people are now asking their politicians why this happened. There is a lot of looking into how this happened and why it wasn't stopped before it happened.

As you know, there were 10 places, 10 coordinated attacks that happened in Mumbai itself, and -- which lasted three days. Basically, the Taj Mahal Hotel and tower was the last place to be cleared. So a lot of people seem to be becoming politically active in this country who may not have been before.

And there is also, of course, tensions now because the Indian government says that Pakistanis were involved in this. So there are tensions now between Pakistan and India.

LUI: OK. Sara Sidner from Mumbai.

Thank you so much with the latest, now a month later after the Mumbai attacks. Appreciate it.

You know, thanks to one woman's dedication, you never have to have Christmas without cookies.


LUI: Well, Christmas is not for everyone. I got some details recently on a relatively new holiday that is gaining momentum. It focuses on humanism.

Some 20 celebrations were held in the U.S. and England this year by the group called HumanLight. Their vice chair explained their philosophy to me earlier. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUI: What is humanism to you?

PATRICK COLUCCI, NJ HUMANIST NETWORK: Well, humanism is a philosophy of life. It's not a religion, it is a secular philosophy, and it's based upon human needs and interests. We believe in using science and reason to understand the universe and to solve human problems, and humanists believe in practicing the common moral decencies and personal responsibilities, social responsibility. And we believe that working together, drawing upon the best human capacities, that we can build a better future for each other in the here and now, not in an afterlife.

LUI: And you celebrate each year HumanLight. That's the equivalent of saying a Christmas Day, per se. What do you do during that celebration which happened, I guess, on the 23rd of this month. Right?

COLUCCI: Yes. HumanLight Day is the 23rd, but most people celebrate it on or about that time, not exactly that day necessarily.

LUI: And what do you do to celebrate? We were looking at some of the pictures on your Web site. We did see what looked to be doctors or scientists speaking with some of the people that are at the celebration.

COLUCCI: Yes. There were entertainers, actually. We have -- you know, it varies quite a bit. There is no rules or rituals about how to celebrate HumanLight, and so it can vary depending on whatever group is doing it and how they want to have it. I think what you are seeing there is one of the children's entertainment shows we had that was based around science demonstrations.

There are certain principles we who formed HumanLight want to strongly recommend people use when they celebrate the holiday. And one of them is that it not be negative or critical of religious people. You know, it's a positive, upbeat celebration of our humanist values, and we are not there to be negative or critical of other's holidays.

LUI: Understood.

COLUCCI: And we also think it's very important to have a celebration that's a social type gathering and that's friendly towards kids and has family-type entertainment, and that's fun.


LUI: And the vice chair, Patrick Colucci, also told me it is not necessarily in competition with other religions. And as he said in that part of the interview, he does respect -- at least HumanLight does -- other religions and the existence of them.


LUI: No Christmas miracle. Just the cruel reality of the nation's mortgage crisis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is definitely no gifts this Christmas. But we definitely put our trust and faith in God that things will get better.


LUI: A couple evicted on Christmas Eve. And their story next in the NEWSROOM.


LUI: So if you get a check from a federal judge in Philadelphia, do not trash it! The Better Business Bureau says these checks are the real deal. They're part of a $150 million telemarketing fraud settlement with Wachovia. 742,000 customers are getting the checks this month. They start at $149 each.

You know, GM is in financial trouble, so is its financing arm as well, GMAC. The Federal Reserve has agreed to let GMAC become a bank, and that allows it now to tap as much as $6 billion in bailout money. A Fed statement says, "Emergency conditions exist that justify expeditious action."

GMAC is also a mortgage lender. It has taken big losses with the housing market collapse.

How about this? Evicted on Christmas Eve. A night of joy and hope turns to brutal reality for a California couple caught up in the mortgage crisis.

We get the details from reporter Bob Lawrence of CNN's San Diego affiliate, KGTV.


BOB LAWRENCE, KGTV REPORTER (voice-over): While most everyone else is putting up lights for the holiday, Scott, who doesn't want his last name used, is taking them down. Fact is, he's taking down all of his holiday decorations, because on this Christmas Eve he's losing his house.

SCOTT, EVICTED FROM HOME: It's sad, taking down the few ornaments and not planning to have a tree and there were definitely no gifts this Christmas. But we definitely, you know, put our trust and faith in God that things will get better.

LAWRENCE: Pretty harsh that all this is happening on Christmas Eve. Scott knew this was coming. He got caught up in the subprime lending mess when his adjustable rate mortgages doubled.

SCOTT: Just on the first mortgage alone, it had gone from just over $1,200 a month to almost $1,700 a month just on the first mortgage. And that wiped us out. LAWRENCE: And all of this happening after he got hurt on the job. He says he tried working with different lenders but to no avail. So the home is being sold at auction to pay off creditors.

But there is a silver lining. A neighbor in the complex has offered Scott and his wife a place to stay. And despite everything that's happened, his optimism hasn't waned.

SCOTT: This economy cannot stay down forever, you know. I've got a wonderful education. My wife has a wonderful education. And together, at some point, I think we're going to really make a great turnaround.


LUI: Complicating the situation, Scott's wife is in the United States on a green card visa, meaning she's been unable to establish credit. Both say they are looking forward to the promise of a new year.

You know you're probably tired of hearing all those stories about corporate executives and their big bonuses and pay raises. But you might be surprised and inspired to hear about a college president giving up his six-figure pay hike to help others.

Details now from CNN's John Zarrella.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What would you do if you got a $100,000 raise? Most of us wouldn't do what James Drake, president of Brevard Community College in Florida did. He donated it, all of it -- $74,000 after taxes -- to the school to fund textbook scholarships.

JAMES DRAKE, COLLEGE PRESIDENT: I thought this would be my -- maybe my only opportunity to do something on a scale that would make a difference to others.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They usually cost about $100.

DRAKE: Yes. And that's about average.

ZARRELLA: While talking with students --

DRAKE: How about for both of you?


DRAKE: Four to five. Same?


ZARRELLA: -- Drake found out the economic crisis on Main Street is impacting the classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the problem! DRAKE: So many students now have to go without buying textbooks in courses simply because they cannot possibly afford them.

ZARRELLA: You may be able to find some textbooks cheaper online. If you're forced into the bookstore, ouch.

(on camera): This is why the scholarship money is so important. Take a look at this basic chemistry book, $131.80 for this book. Here is paperback called "Criminal Procedures," used, $67.

Students we talked to will tell you the price of textbooks is criminal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just a student assistant here.

ZARRELLA: Ming Wolf's (ph) husband recently lost his job in the computer industry. She's holding down two part-time jobs at the school while taking classes. New books cost her between $200 and $300 a semester. And that hurts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't get used books because the version always changes.

ZARRELLA: Nicholas Siroken (ph), a freshman, had no idea books were so costly -- $700 a semester.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not everybody has a rich family or anything, so the less fortunate have to suffer.

ZARRELLA: Drake says his money is funding 248 scholarships, $300 each. Both students have applied.

School officials say one major reason for the high cost of textbooks -- lack of competition. The Association of American Publishers says textbooks cost a lot to research, write and update. They say they are working to lower prices with digital and no-frills editions.

(on camera): Drake is hopeful that his generosity will lead others to donate to the fund and take some of the sting out of the cost of higher education.

John Zarrella, CNN, Cocoa, Florida.


LUI: Well the end of the year means it is time for perhaps the biggest top-10 list of all, the top 10 stories of the year. And today, we're having you tell us what they are. Josh Levs has been watching what you've been clicking on on our Web site.

Josh, good morning to you. And what have you been seeing?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is really interesting. You know when you're out, people talk to you about what stories we're covering -- LUI: Exactly.

LEVS: -- and they say, you know, I wish you guys spent a little more time on this, a little less time on this. Here's what's really important. Well now you literally have the chance to tell us in a really big way because this is for the whole year. It's up at, your picks, top stories.

I'm going to get out of the way. Focus on this for a second because this is a really cool setup. We have all of these thumbnail pictures here that represent different stories from throughout year. You close in on them -- here's Barack Obama, over here is the financial crisis.

Now, you just drag one, you say, I think that's the second- biggest story of the year. You drag another one, you say, I think this is the sixth-biggest story of the year. You can check out whatever it is you think. We've already had close to 200,000 people weighing in now.

Richard, I'll tell you, I am pretty confident that Obama and the financial markets are going to get the top two slots.

But what about this guy? Where does this one fall? Michael Phelps obviously got a lot of talk throughout the year. Where does he go in the top 10?

Or how about Eliot Spitzer? Actually, what do you think about Eliot Spitzer? Would you put that in the top 10? What do you think, Richard?

LUI: Me? I would definitely put Eliot Spitzer in the top 10. It was one of those stories that sort of dominated the headlines.

LEVS: And now Governor Blagojevich, too. We got that one as one of the options as well.

There are so many stories that came up throughout the year that -- you know -- there's a chance to really stop, think back and say, hey, where do you put these in the top 10?

LUI: There were a lot of political stories that were out there. You got Rod Blagojevich, as you're talking about right now, Ted Stevens, you've got William Jefferson.

We were talking about this yesterday, too, these can absolutely be in the top 10 if that's what you were watching during this very political year certainly, right?

LEVS: Yes, it could be.

In fact, what we've already got -- what our viewers are saying so far -- let me show you that. Can we zoom in? We've got time, right? Let's zoom in really quickly, I want to show you this. This is pretty cool. These are the results that we've had so far from everyone who has chosen to weigh in. And this is where they stack them. Now, we're right about the top two. We got at the top Obama winning the presidency and the financial markets crashing. In fact, it looks better in that graphic. So there you go: Obama wins is one -- just like I was saying --

LUI: Right.

LEVS: -- the markets crashed at No. 2. But to me, everything else not sure.

They're saying that gas prices currently at No. 3. They put Phelps all the way up at No. 4 so far. And then you've got the Mumbai terror.

Then down here you've got some more. The earthquake in China, you've got the Blagojevich scandal, Russia/Georgia conflict, O.J. Simpson they are putting at nine. And the same sex marriage --

LUI: Josh -- the Iraq War --

LEVS: Yes.

LUI: -- that is not in the top 10.

LEVS: It's not in the top 10. Not at all, not this year. So that's really interesting.

LUI: And you were watching this for several days, when we only had 60,000 votes. A lot of changes?

LEVS: Yes. I saw Blagojevich go up a little bit. I saw Russia/Georgia jump into the top 10. It wasn't there before.

It might have to do with who is jumping in, whether it's overseas, whether it's in America. Well this goes through the end of the year. So let's see where it all lands (ph).

LUI: OK. We're going to break 200,000 today is what you were saying -- LEVS: Oh, within a half an hour, without a doubt.


LUI: In my top 10, Josh, are cookies. And cookies and Christmas are a natural pairing certainly, like Santa and his notorious sweet tooth. An Ohio woman is turning out lots of those, not by the dozens here, but by the thousands.

Here's Justin Michaels with Toledo affiliate WTOL.


FAY HAHN, THE COOKIE LADY: Now if I drop them, I'm going to get upset. JUSTIN MICHAELS, WTOL REPORTER: Meet Fay Hahn, the cookie lady.

HAHN: Some people say it's a tradition to get these every year.

MICHAELS: The cookie lady has been making her tasty baked treats since she was 14.

HAHN: I have been doing it for so long, I don't know how to stop.

MICHAELS: Now Fay uses all sorts of things to make her cookies pretty. Even those little metal things that are somehow edible. And the cookies come in all sorts of different shapes, too.

HAHN: Angels, trains, stockings, candy canes, poinsettias. That one says Merry Christmas.

MICHAELS: But there are two ingredients she won't waver on.

HAHN: You got to have Blue Bonnet margarine and Gold Medal flour for sure.

MICHAELS: Now don't worry, Fay says the recipe isn't secret. In fact, she'll give it to you if you like. And here's why.

(on camera): And how many of these cookies do you think you make a year?

HAHN: Well I had about 80 dozen this week of just the cut-outs.

MICHAELS: 80 dozen this week?

HAHN: Yes, of just the cut-outs.

MICHAELS (voice-over): Fay makes so many cookies, she's happy when people want to make them on their own. In fact, she makes about 500 dozen each Christmas. That's 6,000 cookies.

HAHN: Everybody says they're addictive.

MICHAELS: And you may be wondering why she frosts the bottom.

HAHN: You can't see the design if I put it on the front. It covers it up. So I frost the backs.

MICHAELS (on camera): And here they are, the infamous cookies. What you have here are six cookies per bag, eight bags per box, equalling a total of four dozen of these cookies.

And of course we have to try them. This is the luxury of my job. I get to taste one. So here we go.

Yes, that's pretty good.

(voice-over): And after several decades of cookie making, could you blame her if she wanted to give it a rest if?

HAHN: As long as I'm able to do it, I'll do it.

MICHAELS: Thank goodness for that.

HAHN: Need a place to work.

MICHAELS: Reporting from the kitchen of the Cookie Lady, I'm Justin Michaels, News 11.


LUI: And you know Justin took home more than just one box of those cookies.

All right, the ups and downs of the economy, not only affecting Main Street America but in major cities around the world.


LUI: Yes, Merry Christmas to all of you. Those are the hard folks behind the camera that make every day work right here at CNN.

The company at the center of a global scandal is filing for bankruptcy. Sanlu is among China's leading dairy producers, that is until it recalled 700 tons of powdered baby formula in September. The milk was tainted with melamine. Twenty other companies also had the chemical in their milk. Six babies died and 290,000 got sick.

China's economy, meanwhile, has been booming along at a double- digit clip for years now. But the global meltdown has tamed that robust growth, pushing it into the single digits.

Here's CNN's Emily Chang in Beijing.


EMILY CHANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is Nanluoguxiang an alleyway that runs through an old Beijing neighborhood. It has been refurbished over the last couple of years, now it is filled with cafes, restaurants, shops, small hotels. It is very popular among tourists and local Chinese people. I like to come here and wander around looking for gifts for people back home, grab a bite to eat.

There is Chinese food of course, Western food, Indian, and my favorite, Korean barbecue joint.

So how's business going on?

KING TAI CHOW, SAVEURS DE COREE OWNER: It's rather quiet at this point in time. The change is rather (INAUDIBLE) I must say.

CHANG: Typically this is lunch time, right?

CHOW: Yes.

CHANG: What would this place normally look like? CHOW: Busy (ph).

CHANG: And today you've got just --

CHOW: One table.

CHANG: -- one table, yes.

CHOW: There you go.

CHANG (voice-over): He estimates business is down by nearly half.

Then, there is the Pass By Bar down the street. It was the first bar in this area, witness to ebbs and flows over the last 10 years.

(on camera): What's business been like here lately?

SUSAN WANG, PASS BY BAR OWNER: A little (ph) change, not so many people like before.

CHANG: So in 10 years have you ever seen business get this slow?

WANG: Yes, I remember, during SARS, you know. (INAUDIBLE)

CHANG (voice-over): SARS, the 2002 pandemic that killed hundreds and jolted the Chinese economy.

(on camera): It's kind of a shock to the system. You know you had the Olympics where business was up, and now the financial crisis.

WANG: Yes. Just like the weather, cold.

CHANG: And the weather.

(voice-over): Winter days in Beijing can be frigid enough to stay home. But not all businesses here are suffering.

(on camera): So it is Christmastime, gearing up for Chinese new year. What are sales like now?

DOMINIC JOHNSON, PLASTERED T-SHIRTS: Sales are good. We're up on last year. Maybe we could be more, but as far as I'm concerned, and my business is concerned, we're doing very well.

CHANG (voice-over): Plastered T-Shirts, a hotspot for funky, colorful gifts is popular as ever. But the owner plans to keep prices low to keep sales up through the financial crisis.

(on camera): How would you say the crowds are on this street?

JOHNSON: The crowds -- I'd say there are not as many people on the street as there should be, for sure. The Chinese are renowned for saving their money and not wanting to spend. And any sniff of economic downturn and they are even less likely to get that money out from under the mattress. CHANG (voice-over): Spend or save, everyone hopes the downturn on Nanluoguxiang will turn around soon.

Emily Chang, CNN, Beijing.


LUI: Well, many of you are giving of yourselves today. Reaching out to your neighbors is making an impact on our world.


LUI: Who will forget this amazing reunion? Hostages held for seven years in the jungles of Colombia finally set free.

CNN's Isha Sesay reports on one hostage whose Christmas with his family could not be more precious to him.


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After years in the jungles of Colombia, a chance to celebrate this holiday season. For former Congressman Luis Eladio Perez, the bitter memories of captivity, all the Christmases spent away from home, wash away in the warm glow of his family's love.

LUIS ELADIO PEREZ, FORMER FARC HOSTAGE (through translator): I made a huge effort not to think about Christmas when it came around. The first thing I would do was switch off the radio. That was the umbilical cord that maintained contact with reality. We didn't want to listen to Christmas music or messages from our families.

SESAY: For those families back home, it was a time of emptiness and uncertainty.

CAROLINA PEREZ, LUIS' DAUGHTER (through translator): Those feelings and memories will never go away. The melancholy, knowing there were seven years and seven Christmases that we were not together. But now we celebrate as a family.

SESAY: Perez says he's found new pleasure in the festivities surrounding the holiday.

L. PEREZ (through translator): Decorating the tree, setting up the manger and putting up the Christmas decorations, going out with my wife to buy presents for the children and my little granddaughter.

ANGELA DE PEREZ, LUIS'S WIFE (through translator): This Christmas is very special for us. I'm so full of happiness to have all my family together to celebrate the rituals of Christmas Eve, to prepare the meal and share everything.

SESAY: For Perez the holiday food brings back fond memories.

L. PEREZ (through translator): After rice and beans, rice and lentils, a bowl of custard, I feel wonderful. I will always have beautiful memories of Christmas. My mother would prepare tamales, which I always said were the best in the world. We'd only make those on December 24th. We'd be so tired we could sleep for a whole year, and we were not even allowed to return to the kitchen.

SESAY: But this family says their happiness is not complete.

SERGIO PEREZ, LUIS'S SON (through translator): After suffering all these years, we hope other families whose relatives are being held hostage by the FARC can see their loved ones soon. God willing, thousands who are in the same situation will be freed as well.

SESAY: Perez points out others have been freed from the jungle this year and many will be saying their prayers for more happy reunions soon.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Atlanta.


LUI: All right. Now we take you over to Chad Myers at the weather center. My compadre who is here today, trying to make it happen here at CNN. A lot of folks working hard.

How are you doing, man?


LUI: Yes, and a lot of folks trying to get to that Christmas day meal, shall we say.

And we've got it right here. Our own CNN (INAUDIBLE) kind of put something nice to us -- together for us. We got roast beef and I saw you walking by with it earlier, that's why I'm asking you.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I passed on the roast beef. I went for the turkey.

LUI: For the turkey. And it's good stuff, as always, every year.

All right, thanks, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

LUI: Talking about the travel that Chad has just mentioned, we want to get to some of the e-mails that you sent to us. We were asking you how are you spending your holiday? And lots of you have been sending us your thoughts.

Let's start with this from Katherine. She says, "In the Houston airport waiting for a standby flight to Trinidad and Tobago because I missed my connection yesterday because the pilot was late for the flight out of Newark." "If I am home tonight," Katherine says, "she'll (sic) be feeling a lot better about that."

All right. Thanks, Katherine.

Then there's Shai who says, "My mom, my wife and our six kids are looking out the window at the most beautiful snowstorm."

Yes, that's always a great way to spend the holiday, with some good music, too.

And then there is McDaniel who says, "Toys are opened, the wife is cooking, went to candlelight service last night and having an early-morning drink today. Didn't have to put many toys together this year, which is good."

Don't know if those last two things were linked in any way.

And then there is finally here -- that's Brya. She says, "Appreciating all we have and giving thanks for our health. Health is the new wealth."

Brya, you couldn't have said it any better.

Send us an e-mail, let us know --

All right. You know, it is not a restaurant, yet it serves an incredible 750,000 meals a year for free. CNN photojournalist Jeff King (ph) takes us to Glide Memorial Methodist Church. The San Francisco congregation hosts a feast for 5,000 souls on Christmas. It's today's "Focus on Giving."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We talk too much without acting. My commitment is to act first, and then talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's show time for us. We're always, always trying to make sure that we be creative, that we be understanding, and that we touch people's hearts, their minds and their souls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feed almost 1,500 people a day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are more volunteers this year. It is phenomenal.

LIZ LOWE, VOLUNTEER: I definitely think that the recent election has just recharged America, renewed faith in America and renewed faith in like wanting to help people and seeing their efforts go a long way.

JANICE MIRIKITANI, GLIDE FOUNDATION: Maybe they can't afford to give money, but they want to feel like they're doing something to help. And so they're volunteering.

STACEY POWELL, VOLUNTEER: I carved four turkeys and five hams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Celery! Where's my celery?

MIRIKITANI: We're all aware of the difficult economic times that we're facing. And I think that it doesn't take too much logic to realize that the poor are going to suffer the most.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was homeless for a while. And so these are all my friends. Now I'm in a position to help them.

JESSICA ZUR, VOLUNTEER: I brought my family because I wanted to show them what's happening in the world. They're not exposed to any homelessness, any poverty, any people that are hungry.

POWELL: My sister called me this morning, she goes there is a good sale going on. And I was like, oh my god, oh my god. So my daughter said, mom, let's go help the homeless first and then go shopping later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is one of those things that you really have to get up for, because it is like a commitment. If you want to do something, you have to work for it.

BARBARA GEE, VOLUNTEER: At first I didn't think that I would get anything out of it. I should be home cooking and getting ready for my own family. But I can see here that it makes me realize how much I do have and the blessings that I have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's much more than just, oh, I gave and I (INAUDIBLE) that, that's the next point that I've gotten. It's much more than that.


LUI: And you can impact your world just by reaching out in your neighborhood. Logon to to learn more about various organizations.

The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM is right after this.