At Sykesville's Merry Main Street holiday celebration early in December, Burke Holbrook and his buddy Benjamin Skalka seemed like just two of the many kids that night enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday season.
The two 5-year-olds attended the festivities with their parents, walked along the decorated Main Street, enjoyed the town's Christmas tree and visited Santa Claus as part of their preparations for Christmas.
But Christmas 2011 has a special meaning for these two, who started their lives a world away, literally, in an orphanage in Nepal.
The two had been best friends at Child Bright Future, an orphanage in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley, until spring 2010, when they were adopted by couples in far-flung countries.
It was Rae and Matthew Holbrook, of Woodbine, who brought Burke into their family.
"The folks at the orphanage told Burke that we were coming about two months before we got there," Rae Holbrook recalled. "He had seen his friends leave, so (adoption) probably wasn't as much of a shock. But I'm sure it was still hard for him to believe."
The orphanage's atmosphere was anything but Dickensian — Rae Holbrook said the people there refer to themselves as a "jumbo family," and the adults do everything they can to provide a warm atmosphere for the children.
It was in that atmosphere that Burke and Ben had become best friends. The two, along with another friend, Sandes, were almost like siblings.
Then they were separated.
The Holbrooks believe the environment of the Nepal orphanage helped their son adapt readily and happily to his new family, a new culture and its strange new language
He developed a near-spellbinding fascination with things such as escalators, mirrors, bathtubs and, of course, Christmas.
At the orphanage, the children had had a Christmas tree. But Christmas in Nepal was a far cry from the celebration here in the United States.
Burke embraced Christmas in America last year as a favorite time of year, but his parents both noticed how their son never stopped talking about the best friends he left behind, Ben and Sandes, from the orphanage.
"He kept asking about them, but we didn't know what to tell him," Rae Holbrook said.
Miles away, Ben's parents were experiencing the same thing.
Emma and Aaron Skalka had also watched their son undergo a remarkably seamless transition to his new homeland. Aaron Skalka said Ben, too, bonded well with his new family.
"Before we met Ben, all Emma and I had seen was a little 2-by-2-inch passport-style photo of him," said Aaron, who works in the film industry. "But then when they brought him into the room and introduced him to us, he just walked over and kissed each of us on the cheek.
"I can tell you for sure," Aaron said, "the bonding was instantaneous."
Yet his friends from Nepal were never far from Ben's mind.
Sweden-born Emma Skalka said Ben was known to use a cell phone and pretend to call Burke and his other friend, Sandes.