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Christmas--As Varied as County’s Population : Some Dined, Attended Mass, Spent the Day in Jail, and, Oh Yes, Went to Disneyland

Times Staff Writer

Linda Urciuoli was eating turkey, stuffing and apple pie at Belisles Restaurant in Garden Grove Friday with her boyfriend because her family had already celebrated Christmas at home the day before.

The 22-year-old Cal State Fullerton student from Brea wasn’t sure why her family jumps the gun on Christmas but said:

“I think it’s because they’re from New Jersey.”

In Santa Ana, several homeless people who had been at the Salvation Army shelter Christmas Eve were sporting new shoes and ski vests--unexpected gifts from an unidentified man who drove a green Jaguar to the shelter Thursday night, dumped out several cases of beer, hamburgers, several pairs of new shoes and ski vests, then sped away.

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“He just helped us out the best he knows how,” said Billy Combs, who said he had seen the Jaguar Santa.

Mary Martin, 84, of Santa Ana was in her usual pew at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange as the Most Rev. Norman F. McFarland, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, delivered his Christmas homily.

“I always come to Mass Christmas,” Martin said. “It’s nice to be here with my family and friends.”

Christmas Day, 1987, in the county was celebrated in traditional and not so traditional ways, sometimes with family and friends, and sometimes alone.

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It was a day spent in commercial and religious pursuits. It was a day of rest and work.

And confinement. At the Orange County Jail, Michael Dean Jackson, 32, of Lodi said he wished he was on the outside “so I could get my life straightened out.”

Jackson, a convicted auto thief, is waiting for a Jan. 15 extradition hearing that may send him back to Orlando, Fla., for violating his probation.

“I’d rather be someplace else on Christmas,” Jackson said. What he misses most, he said, is his daughter, Jamie, 3.

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“But conditions are OK here, and the deputies are pretty humane in here,” Jackson said.

The deputies, Jackson said, had given the inmates an early Christmas present by allowing them to view a videocassette Christmas Eve of “Main Event,” a movie starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal.

As Christmas carols were piped into jail cells, Friday took on a bittersweet quality, said John Hager, 21, of Newport Beach, who was spending his first Christmas in jail.

“I didn’t mind listening to the Christmas carols,” said Hager, who is serving time for drunk driving. “But it makes you think about where you’re at, and it gets depressing.”

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Hymns of thanksgiving and joy echoed through Our Family Cathedral in Orange as an overflow crowd of 900 attended Mass celebrated by Bishop McFarland.

During his homily, the bishop asked worshipers to recall the “natural joys of Christmas.”

McFarland said: “Could we not become a little more aware of the good news proclaimed by the birth of Jesus?”

He said this realization would bring people “great joy, satisfaction and contentment.”

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McFarland’s message, said Mary Wojtkiewicz, was “a great comfort.” Wojtkiewicz, 31, of Orange attended the service with her husband, Brian, and their three young daughters.

“This is a day of getting together with both sides of the family,” Wojtkiewicz said.

Wojtkiewicz, after spending the day with 20 family members at her sister’s house in Orange, said Christmas night that she would be going off to work at St. Joseph Hospital, where she is a nurse on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

Wojtkickiewicz, whose day began at dawn, said Christmas had been “kind of hectic,” but on the whole she was enjoying the day “because it’s nice to be able to spend time with my kids.”

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Many children and their parents spent Christmas at Disneyland. Pam and Bruce Schaeffer of Redlands were at the Anaheim amusement park with their teen-age son and daughter. Joing them were Pam Schaeffer’s mother, sister, brother-in-law and infant niece, and a nephew who had driven down from Redding for the holidays.

Schaeffer, a 40-year-old administrator at the University of Redlands, said she was pleasantly “shocked” when she realized that Disneyland would be open from 8 a.m. to midnight Christmas.

A day at Disneyland was a family Christmas present and fit everybody’s busy schedule. “My mom and sister couldn’t get here from Redlands until Christmas Eve, and they have to go back Saturday,” Schaeffer said. “Of course, they had to sample Southern California shopping during the after-Christmas sales on Saturday, so today was the only day we could take in Disneyland.”

Schaeffer said she was glad she was at Disneyland on Christmas. “Look around you,” she said, “lots of people are doing it. It’s such a gorgeous day. . . . Disneyland is the ultimate family activity.”

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Lan Nguyen, a 16-year-old freshman at Westminster High School, said she decided to make money selling flowers to motorists as they left the Garden Grove Freeway in Orange rather than spending the day with her family.

“With the holiday, I thought I would have a lot of customers,” said Nguyen as she stood at the end of the freeway off-ramp at Glassell Street.

During the four hours she stood on the corner, Nguyen said, she had sold 16 arrangements of flowers--mostly carnations and roses--for $6 each.

“I’ll get 20% of what I sell,” Nguyen said. The only complaint she had about working on Christmas was: “It was kind of cold this morning when I started at 8 a.m. But it’s fine now.”

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At the Newport Marriott in Newport Beach, Betsy Gates spent much of Christmas Day hunched over a computer, making last-minute preparations for the arrival late that night of the Air Force Academy football team, which is scheduled to play Arizona State Wednesday in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium.

Gates said she couldn’t take a breather Christmas Day because she had to arrange the lodging not only for the Air Force team but also for three high school marching bands scheduled to arrive today.

“We’ll be packed full,” Gates said. “We should have about 1,200 people in our 600 rooms.”

Nor was Christmas a holiday for the county’s police and fire departments.

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On Christmas Eve, Charles Edward Ferrari, 42, of Fullerton was killed when he lost control of the car he was driving south on Brea Boulevard near Lambert Road in Brea and struck a utility pole about 11:02 p.m., Brea police said.

In Costa Mesa on Christmas Eve, Police Officer Ron Stone was injured when the squad car he was driving on 19th Street at Newport Boulevard was struck by a suspected drunk driver who ran a red light about 11 p.m., Costa Mesa police said.

Police identified the suspected drunk driver as Guillermo Perez, who was taken to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for treatment.

Stone, who suffered neck, chest and head injuries, was taken to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where he was treated and released, a Costa Mesa police spokesman said.

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At 3 a.m. on Christmas Day, a 50-foot boat on display outside Spoiler Yachts, 1700 W. Coast Highway in Newport Beach, caught fire. Damage was estimated at $300,000, the Newport Beach Fire Department said.

It took 18 firefighters 35 minutes to bring the blaze under control, a Fire Department spokeswoman said. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

At about 9:34 a.m. on Friday, a fire broke out at the Mustang Bar, 605 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, causing $700,000 in damage.

And at Belisles Restaurant, manager Carmen Roos greeted customers who had decided to have their Christmas dinner at the 90-seat eatery that she said specializes in “large portions of solid, homemade American food.”

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Roos said Belisles had added turkey, ham, duck and prime rib steak to the menu for Christmas, but this is about the only concession the 33-year-old establishment was making because of the season.

“We’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Roos said, “and all the holidays, including Thanksgiving, Easter, my birthday . . . and, oh yeah, Christmas.”

Times Staff Writer David Reyes contributed to this story.


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