"Christmas is the most meaningful holiday for me," Vicki Fauntleroy says. "We're all together -- my mother, my kids and me."
Tosha Victoria Fauntleroy, 26, a single parent, sits on the living room sofa in her West Baltimore home. On one wall, pictures of Jesus Christ and Pope John Paul II hang next to a major display of family photographs. On the opposite wall are four red and green Christmas stockings with sparkly labels -- for Jessica, Jason, Grandma and Vicki.
Ms. Fauntleroy, her children, Jessica, 10, and Jason, 8, and her mother, Dorothy M. Fauntleroy, 43, live in a rented brick rowhouse on West Fayette Street in Poppleton.
Their Christmas is keyed to church and family. It starts with Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church on Fremont Avenue and ends with a Christmas Day devoted to family activities at home. "Together" seems to be a favorite family word.
"They are a nice family," says the Rev. Robert Kearns, pastor of St. Peter Claver. "It's a very strong situation, people working hard to link family with school and church support systems. Both kids are very good, with a lot of self-confidence."
At St. Peter Claver, Jason is a cadet in the Knights of St. John, a Catholic men's fraternal organization; Jessica is a junior in the women's auxiliary. Jessica, a fifth-grader, and Jason, a second-grader, attend Father Charles A. Hall School, which has its lower school at St. Peter Claver and middle school at St. Edward's. Both children sing in the Rejoice Choir at St. Peter Claver, which was part of last night's Mass.
Vicki Fauntleroy says the children's father hasn't been a factor in the family for several years.
"I'm a cashier at the Stop, Shop and Save market on North Avenue," she says. "My mother works at home. She sews. She can make anything. And since she's home while I'm working, someone is always here for the children."
Dorothy Fauntleroy made those Christmas stockings with the names on them, another part of what she calls the "work, work, work" of getting ready for today. But she says it in a way that this work, work, work is more joy than toil. Christmas cards are all about in the tiny combination dining room-living room. A space near the front window is reserved for the tree.
Christmas Day begins for the household at 5:30 a.m. when the children rush to the tree to see what Santa Claus has brought.
"I get up, too, because I like to see their faces when they opethe gifts," Vicki Fauntleroy says.
Genesis, the Sega Enterprises video game, was a joint presenfor the children, and each got smaller individual gifts and clothes.
Vicki Fauntleroy is giving her mother a bracelet and a crucifiand put out pre-Christmas hints to her mother that she would like books on black history and Malcolm X.
Dorothy Fauntleroy is cooking Christmas dinner. She has moved away from turkey to capon and rabbit.
"We don't go out at all on Christmas Day," Mrs. Fauntleroy says. "We're here and we're together."