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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

"Christmas Around the World"

Aired December 25, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The pope's message of hope and peace kicks off our CNN special, "Christmas Around the World." At the Vatican in Rome, on Christmas Day, Pope John Paul II appealed for an end to what he called the great evil of war and terrorism. The pope's message also focused on the Middle East and the violence taking place there.
In Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, a message to end the bloodshed in the Middle East. But for the third year in a row, Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, did not attend services at the Church of the Nativity. Israel has said it cannot guarantee his return to his compound in Ramallah.

In Iraq, coalition troops traded in helmets for Santa hats. They celebrated at the Basra Airport in southern Iraq, an area that has been relatively peaceful. U.S., British and other European troops feasted on roast turkey, vegetables, and everyone's favorite holiday punchline, they even had fruitcake in southern Iraq.

And in Washington, thousands of Christians celebrated the day with several events at the National Cathedral. These pictures are from the Festival of the Bucharest.

Hello, and happy holidays to all of you at home. I'm Daryn Kagan at the CNN Broadcast Center in New York City this evening. Glad you could spend part of your holiday with us.

Let's begin with the thousands of U.S. troops, especially the younger ones. This is the first Christmas not spent with family and friends, and Iraq is a long way from home. But there's still plenty of work to be done. And that doesn't mean they can't enjoy just a touch of holiday cheer.

More now from our Satinder Bindra.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN NEW DELHI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It's early morning on Christmas Day, and these soldiers have a job to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A couple of "Merry Christmas's" here and there, and other than that, business as usual.

BINDRA: Also pretending it's business as usual, Sergeant Daniel Peterson, who's guarding this 1st Armored Division base in Baghdad, a job sergeants don't usually do. SGT. DANIEL PETERSON, U.S. ARMY: We're taking the younger soldiers' duty today so they can relax and call their family and have a good meal and just enjoy themselves.

BINDRA: It's the first Christmas away from home for many of these soldiers. Their treat today, a taste of home: traditional roast beef and turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a bit sad that I'm not with friends and family, but I still feel a bit joyous that I'm still alive.

BINDRA: Since May, just over 200 U.S. troops have been killed in combat. Four in just the last two days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It scares me, because I know one day, you know, that might happen to me. But I'm praying to god it never comes to that.

BINDRA (on camera): The troops here say the best way of remembering their fallen colleagues is to continue their mission, to continue, as they put it, "helping the people of Iraq build a more stable and prosperous country."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot more great things we need to do for this country.

BINDRA (voice-over): But in the meantime, these troops say bad things continue to happen. On Christmas Day, eight projectiles slam into a hotel and surrounding areas in downtown Baghdad. Over the past few days, U.S. forces have been tracking down insurgent hideouts.

On Christmas Day, this U.S. general flies down to congratulate and serve his troops for what he says is a job well done. Holiday season or not, these U.S. troops know they're still in a war.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: In Afghanistan, on Christmas Day, they marched in with a parade. Troops at Bagram Air Base dressed as Santa. And elves rolled in, in Humvees. They were decked out for Christmas. Some soldiers said they missed their families, but they know their mission to stabilize Afghanistan is worth it. About 11,000 U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, god, I love you. Say hi to daddy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: And how about this for a present? Staff Sergeant Ed Costello (ph) hasn't seen his wife and baby girl since Valentine's Day, when his Army reserve unit was called up for duty in Iraq. The Christmas Eve reunion especially sweet for the Costellos (ph). The staff sergeant's leave had originally been canceled.

Welcome home.

And for the troops still stationed overseas, a special holiday message from the president. In a statement issued by the White House today, Mr. Bush writes that, "Americans are blessed to have men and women like you protecting us and defending the cause of freedom around the world. May god bless you and may he watch over our country."

Yesterday, Mr. Bush made some phone calls to servicemen and women stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. A White House spokesman says Mr. Bush wished them happy holidays and thanked them for their work.

Well, it might not have been a white Christmas where you live, but for all of us Americans, it has been an orange Christmas, a code orange Christmas. So what's different about the holidays when we're on high alert? Bruce Morton takes a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The kids still lined up to see Santa. And in New York's Rockefeller Center, the tree gleams, the skaters swirled. But it's different. Extra security at LaGuardia Airport, security men down by the ferry, security on the rivers. It's different.

Here in Washington, more airport security, too. A flashing sign warns drivers. Police cars guard the monuments. This one is at the Jefferson. Still, tourists tour, and shoppers shop, and some postal workers worked this holiday to make others' Christmas a happy one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're delivering express mail packages, priority packages, anything that may look like a Christmas package that should have been delivered by December the 25th.

MORTON: Out ringing doorbells and cheerful about it. But also in Washington, this is a missile launcher, though it may not look like one. We can't tell you exactly where it is.

Planes fly, of course, but they're watched. And more flashing signs, with a number to call if you're suspicious of something. Some troops are home for the holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All my daughter wanted for Christmas was for me to come home.

MORTON: Some, more, of course, are half a world away. This is Iraq. This is Bosnia.

So is it different here this year?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all. I mean, life's too short. And I just can't go watching my back every single day and every hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're worrying about going out about your business, you don't know what's going to happen. Especially today when I was in the subway, I was praying to god that something would not happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It kind of motivates me to be more with family and with friends, and so that's what I'm doing.

MORTON: We've had wartime Christmases before, of course: Vietnam, World War II, if you're old enough to remember. And we did then what we have done this time, all the traditional things. But a little differently.

Trees and shops, and for the Christians for whom this is a religious holiday, church, prayers and music. The difference is, this time the attack could come at home. But the prayers must always be much the same: let those I love, whether they're down the street or across the ocean, come safe home.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And more on the orange alert a little bit later. We'll go to Los Angeles and we'll go live to the international airport there. And our Charles feldman, he has some new details on those Air France flights that were canceled because of fears over terrorism.

But how about some good news on this holiday? Tonight, many Americans remember the true meaning of the season, goodwill towards others and the gift of giving.

In Fort Myers, Florida, local police pitched in to buy Christmas presents for an 11-year-old girl and her two younger siblings. The girl's mother is charged with forcing her daughter to steal her own Christmas presents from a Marshall's department store. The girl says her family could never afford presents before this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KETERA FULLER, GRATEFUL FOR PRESENTS: I really appreciate this stuff. I don't know how much I could thank you. I don't think I could thank you enough. If I would never have this stuff, we wouldn't have nothing for Christmas. We would still just be sitting in the window getting picked on. And I really appreciate this stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Well, that is an appreciative young lady.

In Connecticut, a Christmas miracle for a woman who was doomed to die. She was just hours away from death. Twenty-six-year-old Kelly Walker was in a coma and given last rights. But a last-minute donor gave Walker a new liver and saved her life.

In New York, his honor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, rolled up his sleeves and helped out at the Manhattan Senior Center. Bloomberg helped pack some 300 meals that were delivered to homebound seniors. The city's Meals on Wheels programs brought Christmas meals to some 15,000 seniors.

Merrill Lynch reaches out to touch 12,000 senior citizens this holiday season. The investment firm's opening up 80 offices around the country, just to let seniors make free phone calls home for Christmas. Our Adaora Udoji has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On this Christmas, the folks from Good Companion could not wait to get off the bus. They came to this festively dressed up Manhattan office for a precious gift, a gift so many take for granted, the chance to use a free telephone.

LAURA BERMAN, MAKING XMAS CALLS: This is your grandmother. I'm at Merrill Lynch now.

UDOJI: For Laura Berman, a widow, that means reaching out to her granddaughter who lives in California, and her cousin in Las Vegas.

BERMAN: It's very nice. It cheers us up a little, gets us out.

UDOJI: During the holidays, not everyone has the extra money to gather with loved ones, especially those who live far away. No matter the distance, there's one woman never far from Esther Cohen's mind.

ESTHER COHEN, MAKING XMAS CALLS: I'm calling the woman who helped to save my life during the war.

UDOJI (on camera): She helped save your life?

(voice-over): Esther was a 10-month-old baby when the Nazis stormed Poland during World War II. Helena Westerlick (ph) helped her flee the country. It's a debt that can never be repaid, but Esther, who only met Helena once, gives what she can. She left word in Belarus that money is on the way.

(on camera): I see you have a big smile on your face.

COHEN: Yes. I'm happy today.

UDOJI: Merrill Lynch has opened its doors, not just here in New York City, but at 80 offices across the country. With the help of more than 1,000 volunteers, they expect 12,000 senior citizens to call their friends and family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They start getting excited over the summer, getting ready for it, getting their phone numbers together. And then December comes, and they count down. And everybody's really excited to go.

UDOJI: Reaching out, though, can sometimes be hard, as Lillian Nozick found out after one of her calls.

LILLIAN NOZICK, MAKING XMAS CALLS: I didn't talk to her in six years. Now she says to me, "So why you calling me?" I said, "So do you want me to hang up?" I figured I'd make amends, or try to be -- sometimes it works, sometimes it don't.

UDOJI: Still, Lillian, just like many who have come before, will come again, simply because she wants to try and stay in touch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UDOJI: Adaora Udoji, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: I hope you reached everyone who you tried to on this special day.

A special Christmas delivery of help from home for U.S. troops fighting the war in Iraq. Coming up, the grassroots program that's bringing a taste of America to Iraq.

Also, the sights and sounds of Christmas in a faraway land that few get a chance to visit.

And later, a Christmas in southern California that many may want to forget. We have the latest on the pounding rain and damage from mudslides.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: Air France is set to resume its Paris to L.A. flights tomorrow. But will it be safe for you to get on one of those planes?

Let's get some answers now. Our Charles Feldman is in Los Angeles, in our bureau with new information tonight about some of the passengers who were supposed to be on those Air France flights.

Charles, good evening.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Daryn. And Merry Christmas.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has dug up some interesting information about those Air France flights. A U.S. official tells her there were concerns about a number of people booked on the flights, some who never showed up. Among them, a trained pilot with a commercial pilot's license.

Now, you'll recall that some of the 9/11 hijackers had some pilot training. Law enforcement officials out here remain very much on their guard, even though there is word from France tonight that nothing has yet come from the investigation there. Here, one source says there is a feeling that a hijacking yesterday may have been thwarted. The source cautioning not to read too much into the fact that no one was actually arrested or charged with anything thus far. Whatever actually did or did not occur yesterday, there does not appear to be any anxiety now about the planned resumption of Air France flights to L.A. tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FELDMAN (voice-over): On Friday, we'll see if the Air France ticket counters spring back to life, as the airline resumes its service to Los Angeles. But behind the scenes, a lot is still going on.

A law enforcement source with knowledge of this ongoing investigation says efforts in and around the L.A. area, as a preventive measure, to detect signs of chemical, biological or nuclear warfare, have greatly intensified since the nation went on orange alert. The source says various agencies, including the U.S. military, are being used here to look for early signs of any possible attack.

Meantime, although we're told no one was arrested in Paris the other day, several individuals were questioned. U.S. law enforcement says the source still has an interest in at least some of these individuals. And Mexico remains a focus of investigative attention. The investigation into a possible aviation threat from south of the U.S. border remains intense, says the source, and is at a sensitive stage. Although no flights have yet been canceled from Mexico into the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're dealing with a terrorist adversary that is opportunistic and will carry out attacks when and where they think they have the capability to do so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FELDMAN: If law enforcement officials are right, this marks the second time in recent years that Los Angeles was marked by terrorists for attack. In 1999, a plot to blow up LAX was foiled by an alert Customs agent. And now, some law enforcement officials believe L.A. is again the focus of terrorists' attention, perhaps determined to finish a job they failed to complete some four years ago -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Charles Feldman in Los Angeles. Thank you for that.

We turn now to the Middle East. It has been anything but a peaceful day there, as violence erupted in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Our Chris Burns is standing by live in Tel Aviv with the latest -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, even now, in the wee hours of the morning, memorial candles burn next to Hanukkah candles on the bench of a bus stop over my shoulder there. Some people are still holding vigil at a site where the suicide bomber exploded that bomb just a few hours ago. This kind of scene we haven't seen for more than two and a half months here in Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNS (voice-over): The suicide bomber struck in the middle of rush hour, shattering this bus stop in the Tel Aviv suburb of Patatikva (ph). The blast came shortly after an Israeli Apache helicopter rocketed a vehicle in Gaza City. There was no apparent link between the two attacks. Among the dead in Gaza, Palestinian militants, as well as civilians.

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SHARON SPOKESMAN: It's not a question of restraint. It's a question of being able to intercept and to arrest other people. But this guy who is responsible for the death of six Israelis and 19 wounded, who is the head of the Islamic Jihad, they get their order from Syria, from Ramadan Shallaf (ph). This guy was about to conduct a major terrorist attack.

BURNS: For more than two months, there were no suicide attacks, or so-called targeted killings of Palestinian militants, until now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We condemn this vicious cycle, and we call upon President Bush personally to make sure that he must revive the American role and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) role in providing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) timeline and monitors on the ground.

BURNS: But the attacks came amid increasing clashes in the territories. Among the latest, an ambush that killed two Israeli army officers in central Gaza and an Israeli incursion in the southern Gaza town of Rafa (ph). The Israeli army says they found an arm-smuggling tunnel there. At least nine Palestinians were killed, and dozens wounded, including militants and civilians.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNS: And since that incursion, the Palestinian Authority has cut off its contacts with the Israeli government, contacts that were aimed at trying to arrange the first face-to-face meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers. And that meeting was seen as a possible way to re-launch the peace process. All that for now is on hold -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Chris Burns, late on this Christmas night in Tel Aviv. Thank you for that report.

One of the world leaders in the war on terror has been targeted for assassination. Just ahead, how Pakistan's leader escaped a deadly attack, the second assassination attempt in just 11 days.

Also, the new information about how Pakistan may have helped rogue nations gain nuclear weapons.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: The question today is, just how many lives does Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, actually have? Musharraf today survived another attempt on his life. Islamabad bureau chief, Ash-har Quraishi, has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ASH-HAR QURAISHI, CNN ISLAMABAD BUREAU CHIEF(voice-over): It was the second assassination attempt on President Pervez Musharraf's life in less than two weeks. Officials say just before 2:00 p.m. local time, the president's motorcade was attacked by two suicide bombers, trying to ram their explosive-ridden vehicles into the convoy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We had blocked off the road for Musharraf's motorcade to pass, and a Suzuki van came up. He tried to enter the convoy. Then, all of a sudden, there was a blast.

QURAISHI: While the president escaped unharmed, more than a dozen were killed, and 46 others injured in the blast. On December 14, the president narrowly escaped a similar attempt on his life, when remotely detonated explosives missed his motorcade by less than a minute. Just hours after this latest attack, President Musharraf appeared on television and said he was undeterred in his mission to fight terrorism.

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: Our resolve is -- if anything, it has strengthened. Our resolve has increased. We have to rid this country of all extremism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and we have to take the country forward on the part of development and progress.

QURAISHI: Since coming to power in 1999, Musharraf banned major militant and sectarian groups in Pakistan. He is a central figure in the U.S.-led war on terror, handing over more than 500 suspected al Qaeda members to the United States. In August, an audiotape believed to have been recorded by key al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for Pakistanis to rise up against their president for supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

NAYYAR ZAIDI, PAKISTAN JOURNALIST: Al Qaeda can also play havoc by targeting other places, army installations, other institutions. But they have not done that. They are focusing on one person, so that means that if they are behind it, they consider that, if he's gone, that there might be some change in policies.

QURAISHI: President Musharraf has not ruled out the possibility that al Qaeda may be behind the attacks, and defended his security personnel for doing the best they can.

(on camera): Still, a reassessment of the president's security situation is under way. The prime minister presided over an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the day's events. And Pakistani security forces remain on high alert as the investigation into this latest assassination attempt is just beginning.

Ash-har Quraishi, CNN, Islamabad, Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Mr. Musharraf has pledged support to the U.S. in its war on terror. But in light of some new evidence, that support is being called into question. Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The growing evidence Pakistani scientists may have helped Iran, North Korea and Libya acquire nuclear weapons technology is raising new concerns in Washington about a key ally.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've had no better partner in our fight on terror than President Musharraf.

ENSOR: When Iran recently shared information on its nuclear suppliers with international regulators, the evidence pointed to Iran getting designs and possibly actual uranium enrichment centrifuges from Pakistani scientists.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, ISIS: Pakistan is our ally. And in a way, they're stabbing us in the back by helping countries like Iran, North Korea, perhaps even Libya, get the wherewithal to make nuclear weapons.

ENSOR: Pakistan's apparent assistance to Iran and the others took place in the '80s and '90s, well before Pakistan's President Musharraf took power.

PATRICK CLAWSON, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: The horses bolted out of the barn. We're talking about exports that took place quite a number of years ago. Going forward, of course, we can emphasize the Pakistanis don't do any more of this. But what's already happened has happened.

ENSOR: Scientists who may have sold nuclear secrets have been questioned by authorities in Pakistan this week, including Abdullah Kadir Kahn (ph), father of the Pakistani bomb which was first detonated in 1998 to great celebration. So far, though, none of the scientists has been charged with any crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have to hold these people accountable, so it sets out a clear warning to other Pakistanis that this will not be tolerated.

ENSOR: What makes the growing evidence against Pakistani scientists all the more worrying is that last week, President Musharraf, the leader holding further proliferation in check, narrowly escaped death from the remotely detonated bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Musharraf somehow falls and an Islamic state is set up, then the problem can become much worse.

ENSOR (on camera): Some experts say they suspect the evidence from Libya points to a Pakistani source for its recently revealed centrifuge equipment. Senior U.S. intelligence officials refuse to confirm that. But they do say the information the CIA found in Libya will help track who is selling nuclear equipment on the black market. And it looks as if an ally may have been a major source of nuclear danger.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: The special holiday help for U.S. troops on the frontlines in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just warms my heart to know that they're going to have a nice Christmas, getting the things that they need to survive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: What some people are doing to adopt a platoon, and why the Pentagon is not happy about those plans. We'll tell you those stories after the broke.

And later, the beachfront Christmas celebrations, Aussie style.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KAGAN: To Iraq now, a somber Christmas day with several attacks rocking the capital.

Our Rym Brahimi has an update.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was a Christmas morning many here will remember.

It started at 6:15 in the morning. A series of rocket-propelled grenade attacks. At least eight, U.S. military sources say, in the space of one hour were launched throughout the Iraqi capital.

Among the targets that were hit, the Turkish residence. Turkish embassy sources say that the residence was hit, but there were also explosions around the compound in the early morning.

The Sheraton Hotel right by the Palestine Hotel was targeted by three RPGs, but hit by two. There was damage to the elevator shaft and the atrium, and this only a few hours after a mortar round missed the hotel last night.

An apartment block nearby caused two injuries among Iraqi civilians, and some explosives devices that landed in the Green Zone, where coalition forces have their headquarters.

(voice-over) U.S. forces have been spending Christmas on high alert for terror attacks. The U.S. military saying it had made a point of not letting its guard down at Christmas in order to counter of increased attacks that their intelligence had said would take place on the 24th, 25th, and 26th.

Despite the launching of Operation Iron Grip throughout the Iraqi capital, some U.S. soldiers were able to celebrate with a turkey. A group of them located at the Olympic stadium told CNN that they felt they had good morale for the time being, but also a thought for their fallen colleagues, those U.S. soldiers that have lost their lives in the past weeks and months of conflict in Iraq.

(on camera) Rym Brahimi, CNN, reporting from Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Meanwhile, European and British troops based in Basra shared a traditional Christmas lunch together. Though the atmosphere was festive, some troops said it was difficult to find the spirit of Christmas so far from home.

But the British troops in Iraq were not far from the thoughts of their countrymen and women.

Back in their home country, Queen Elizabeth II paid special tribute to the British troops who are serving in Iraq. In her annual Christmas message to the nation, she spoke of the admirable teamwork by the armed forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II, UNITED KINGDOM: I believe there is a lesson for us all here. It is that each of us can achieve much more if we work together as members of a team. The founder of the Christian faith himself chose 12 disciples to help him in his ministry.

I was reminded of the importance of teamwork as I presented for the first time last summer, the queen's awards for voluntary service, by groups within the community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Presents and boxes full, that's what many of you found around the Christmas tree this morning. So did some of the troops in Iraq, it turns out, thanks to folks in New Jersey, who were showing their support all year round.

And our Peter Viles has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vera Beach, Florida, where eighth grader Callie Churchwell wanted to help her sister, Angela Maddox (ph), who serves in the Air Force in Iraq.

CALLIE CHURCHWELL, SISTER SERVING IN IRAQ: I really do love my sister. So -- and I want the best for her. And so I just thought about getting everybody together and getting up stuff to send over to her.

VILES: The whole school got together in a competition: who could send the most shampoo, clothing, soap, CDs, whatever to Angela's squadron of 80. BURDOCK: It just warms my heart to know they're going to have a nice Christmas, getting the things that they need to survive.

VILES: The champion of troop support is Elaine Harmon of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, who has adopted not one but ten platoons. She's mom to 250 soldiers in Iraq.

ELAINE HARMON, ADOPT A PLATOON: You write to them. You send them packages. You let them know you're praying for them. They know you are supporting them. You send anything you can to make their deployment easier.

VILES: And when she says anything, she means it: Scooby Doo boxer shorts, Girl Scout cookies, mouse traps, DVDs of action movies, and the kind of greeting cards that only a mother could send.

HARMON: Dream big, reach far, shine brightly, you're a star.

VILES: If you're inspired to follow her lead, put a box in the mail, the Pentagon's official guidance is please don't do that.

JOHN MOLINO, DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The best way to help is not to put a box of something in the mail. Because what that does is it raises security concerns, because we really don't know what's in that box. And it also clogs the mail system that we have getting other supplies to the service members, as well.

The best thing to do is to take advantage of the online opportunities.

VILES: The Pentagon recommends the web site DefendAmerica.mil. Click on the box "support our troops," and you can send gift certificates directly to the front lines.

But back in New Jersey, though, it's going to take a lot more than Pentagon guidance to stop Elaine Harmon. She's got ten birthday boxes to put in the mail to her soldiers.

HARMON: Without our soldiers, we wouldn't live the life we lead. And we are totally devoted to our soldiers. We really do love them.

VILES: Peter Viles, CNN, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Christmastime around the world, how the holiday is celebrated in a place you probably have never been to.

We'll go to Asia's largest predominantly Catholic country, balances the religious and secular meaning of Christmas.

Also, celebrating Christmas down under, how the Aussies make summertime a big part of their holiday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Sergeant Gary Burnhardt (ph). I'm from 4th I.D. down in Tikrit, Iraq, at the 1BCD (ph). I'm from Fort Hood, Texas. And I want to say hi to my wife, Tracy (ph), and my children that are staying there, waiting for me to come home. I would also like to say hi to my mom and my two kids in Idaho. Happy holidays. Miss you. Love you all. Hope to be home soon. Take care and God bless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. My name is Staff Sergeant Deanna Hawke (ph). I'm originally from Flint, Michigan. I'm stationed in Tikrit, Iraq. And I would like to wish everyone in America happy holidays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm Elizabeth Soria (ph) in Tikrit, Iraq. And I want to wish all my family in California a happy holiday. Bye-bye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: So, you say you're Catholic, and you didn't have time to go to midnight mass? Well, you might want to give thanks that you don't live in the Philippines, where Catholics there go to pre-dawn mass nine times during the Christmas season.

Let's find out more from Judith Torres in Manila.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDITH TORRES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christmas in Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation. Of its 80 million people, more than 90 percent are Catholic.

The Philippines celebrates one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world.

The symbols are everywhere. The parol, the star of Bethlehem, the belen, the birth of Jesus Christ. And the Simbang Gabi, the pre- dawn mass.

In Laspinas (ph), a marching band wakes up the town.

Many Filipino Catholics believe that if you attend all nine pre- dawn masses, God will grant a Christmas wish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): That our people choosing the right leader for this country in the coming elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): That my dad could come home from working abroad, but only for jus tone Christmas so we can be a family again.

TORRES: The heart of Christmas here is still about love and charity, with a family at its center. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): On Christmas Eve before we have our family dinner we visit one of the poor families here and bring them food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Of course, a little extra money would make them really happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The meaning of Christmas is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is love.

TORRES: For Filipino Christians, it still goes back to celebrating the birth of a child in a manger.

Judith Torres, CNN, Manila.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: All right. There's still some Christmas out there. And that means reindeer, Santa Claus and surfing at the beach? Well, it does in Australia. They're celebrating the holiday by surfing, sun bathing and partying in the sun.

Those folks from Sydney took advantage of some balmy weather at Balmy Beach (ph).

This should warm you up. A couple of lottery jackpots are hitting this weekend. And that could make all of your Christmas dreams come true all year long. Coming up, the monster-size jackpots with nearly $300 million up for grabs.

Also, some international scientists are hoping for a Christmas miracle. The latest on the hunt for life on Mars from the Beagle space probe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Sergeant David Worth (ph) from Lynchburg, Virginia. I want to tell my girls, Sarah and Samantha (ph), merry Christmas and a happy new year. Sorry I can't be with you, but it won't be long now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Private Muniez (ph), and I'm from 3rd Batallion 2nd ACR (ph), Fort Book (ph), Louisiana. I'd like to say hello to my wife, my unborn child, Raelynn (ph), tell them I love them. The rest of my family, my mom, my sister and just let them know I love them and I'm doing all right and I'll be home soon. Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Sergeant Leigh McMann (ph) from Worchester (ph), New Hampshire, stationed here with American Forces Network in Baghdad, Iraq. I just want to say to my family and friends all around Lake Winnepesauke (ph). I love you. Miss you, and I will see you soon. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Specialist Garner (ph), stationed in Baghdad. I live in New York. Just want to give a shout out to my family. Merry Christmas. And thanks to everybody that supports the troops out here in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Some people might be wishing for a white Christmas, but with this week's huge lottery jackpot, millions are praying for a green Christmas.

Nobody had all the winning numbers in the multi-state Powerball drawing last night. So the jackpot is expected to grow to $170 million for the next drawing on Sunday. The game is played in 24 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

European scientists are eagerly awaiting the word from Mars. The Beagle 2 space probe was supposed to land on the red planet today, but it has yet to send out its first signal.

Let's check in with Gavin Morris for more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GAVIN MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what was meant to happen: Beagle 2 bouncing down onto the surface of Mars and spreading its paws in preparation to send its first signal to Earth.

In both Britain and at mission control in Germany, scientists waited for Beagle's Christmas greeting, but it didn't come.

MIKE MCKAY, FLIGHT DIRECTOR: They did not see any signal at that time. They have had nothing received on board the spacecraft.

But we knew that this first contact was always a very, very cautious first signal from the surface. And there are many reasons why the signal may have not been received by the spacecraft.

MORRIS: So, disappointment. But the Beagle team is not giving up hope yet.

Over the next two days more attempts will be made to find Beagle 2, in the hope it can still start its tests. Its mission is to gather soil and atmospheric samples in a search for any signs of present or former life on Mars.

But the Christmas gift this first European mission to Mars was hoping for did not arrive. And now it's a nervous wait.

PROF. COLIN PILLINGER, BEAGLE 2 LEAD SCIENTIST: Everybody knew it was very difficult to land on Mars. It's ever so easy in the pub after the third pint. But in reality, it's a very difficult job to do.

MORRIS: The small Beagle team is trying to defy history; two- thirds of all attempts to reach of the red planet have failed. But even if Beagle 2 does not succeed, this bargain basement mission has already achieved one major aim, the European Space Agency's Mars Express craft, that transported Beagle into space, has successfully entered Mars' orbit and will conduct its own surveys from above the red planet.

DAVID SOUTHWOOD, EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY: It's the beginning, in many respects of a new exploration of Mars. Mars Express is there. We've just -- we're talking to the spacecraft again. And everything is fine.

MORRIS: So, one small step for the mission, but there's no doubt the words they were hoping to say, that the Beagle has landed, are not possible yet.

Gavin Morris, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Now we're just getting word they tried to contact Beagle 2 yet again, and unfortunately no go. We'll continue to track that from Europe to the red planet.

Back here on planet Earth now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the flu outbreak has hit hard in ten more states since last week.

We're talking Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma are the lucky flu. They're the only five states in the nation where the illness has not been widespread.

There's confirmation that a cow slaughtered this month did have the first case of Mad Cow Disease in the U.S.

The sick cow came from a farm in Washington state. It is now under quarantine. And the rest of the stock is being tested.

Our medical correspondent Christy Feig has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): USDA officials say the animal in question was about four years old and lived on this 4,000-cow dairy farm in Washington state.

ANN VENEMAN, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: None of the cattle on that farm will move off that farm. The owners of the farm have been very cooperative.

FEIG: News Thursday a lab in England further confirmed the animal does indeed have Mad Cow Disease will likely do more damage to the U.S. beef industry.

Already about a dozen countries, including Japan, South Korea and Mexico, are suspending imports of U.S. beef. Last year, Japan imported $842 million of U.S. beef, South Korea $610 million, and Mexico $595 million. The total value of U.S. beef exports last year was $2.5 billion.

Industry officials are asking countries not to overreact, even though the U.S. bans beef from most other countries that have had Mad Cow Disease.

CHANDLER KEYS, NATIONAL CATTLEMEN BEEF ASSN.: What we'll have to go to the trading partners and say is, let's do this based on risk, and science and not on hysteria and scare tactics.

FEIG: Cows can't transmit the disease within a herd. They can only be infected by eating feed that contains infected animal parts. In 1997, that became illegal in the U.S.

But since this cow was only about four years old, experts say feed companies' compliance with the ban may not be absolute.

Since it takes several years from the time the animal is infected until symptoms appear, the USDA is now focusing its efforts on finding the farm or market where this cow was infected. Only then can they determine if there are more cows that could have the disease.

(on camera) In rare cases, humans can get sick from eating the brain or spinal cord tissue of an infected animal, but not its meat.

Even so, at least one large grocery chain in Oregon is already recalling ground beef, because they buy their meat from one of the processing plants that received the infected animal's meat.

Christy Feig, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Next, from hip-hop star to starring as Santa Claus for hundreds of kids, what singing star Jay-Z is doing today to help out underprivileged kids.

And it's become a Christmas tradition for millions of people, watching a movie on the holiday. With the stars of "Cold Mountain," we'll talk about the movie that is generating tons of Oscar buzz.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name's Pfc. Kowalski (ph) from the 6th Armored Battalion (ph). I just want to say merry Christmas, happy new year to my mom, my sister and all my family in Florida. And my fiancee, baby, I miss you. And I'll see you soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Lieutenant Colonel Vallace Worth (ph) from Peach Tree city, Georgia. I want to say hello to my wife, Dolly, Justin, Jason, Erin (ph) in Dallas, and my parents down in Seminole County, Johnsonville (ph). Merry Christmas from Baghdad, 2003.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm Staff Sergeant Marlee Strong (ph). I would like to wish a merry Christmas to my family in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I miss you guys. See you guys soon. Love you. Bye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name's Specialist Crystal Rhodes (ph). I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. I want to say hi to my husband in Heidelberg, Germany, and to my family in Kansas City, Missouri. I love you guys and I miss you, and I'll see you soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Rapper and hip-hop artist Jay-z has been playing Santa Claus in Brooklyn today. He spent the afternoon in the Marcy Projects (ph), handing out toys and making this little Christmas a little bit merrier for some kids in his old neighborhood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY-Z, HIP-HOP ARTIST: I came back to my old neighborhood, see people I haven't seen in awhile. And people who have (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: Well, good for you, Jay-z.

Now you at home, get yourself some jumbo popcorn, and don't forget the butter. Plenty of new movies are open today. "Paycheck," "Peter Pan," "Cold Mountain" and "Cheaper by the Dozen."

And let's not forget the blockbuster that's been in the theaters a week, just a little over a week now, "Lord of the Rings" has drawn Oscar buzz. Another epic love story set in the Civil War has already earned a few Golden Globe nominations.

Here's a preview now of "Cold Mountain."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to marry you, if you'll have me.

NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTOR: I'll marry you. I'll marry you. I'll marry you.

It's a movie about faith in somebody and belief in somebody's love.

I pray to God you will.

JUDE LAW, ACTOR: I hope that they walk away recognizing the destructions of war on everyone.

I ain't going to get shot for some cause I don't believe in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a glorious picture. I think it's so beautiful. I mean, the book was absolutely a masterpiece. And I don't think that it was compromised in any way in its film translation. ANTHON MINGHELLA, DIRECTOR: It was a mammoth undertaking. It's about an odyssey, and it was an odyssey behind the camera. I want civil war historians and people who are interested in this era to feel honored by what I've done.

And certainly because it's not my natural milieu, I tried very hard, maybe harder than I would have done if I'd known more.

LAW: I think he's actually done a great job of showing you what kind of blistering explosion of the violence at the beginning of the film. Just to remind you of what is going on in the world at the time of the civil war. And then he pulls you out and shows the rest of the war through the eyes of those who, if you like, fight it at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations. I'll send you out with a shotgun a lot more.

KIDMAN: So much is made of the environment and the harshness of the seasons. And yes, it was really difficult, really tough. But at the same time, you've been given a beautiful screenplay with an extraordinary director, and a bunch of actors who want to be there.

MINGHELLA: I always thought that the whole job of getting these actors feeling comfortable, and apologizing to them for the conditions. In fact, the reverse was true. It felt to me like the harder it was the happier they were, the more spirit they found.

KIDMAN: I thought I was seeing him fall. Instead I was seeing him come back to me.

That simple clarity of saying I love you. And I'll be waiting for you. And I love that they both make that pledge to each other. And they both keep it.

Come back to me. Come back to Cold Mountain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: And this quick holiday note for those of you in the D.C. area: you should not run out to see the national Christmas tree on the mall tonight. That's because there's a power outage on the National Mall, and that means no lights on the tree, along with some of the traffic lights in the area.

It's been happening on and off over the last day, and we're told they are trying to fix it.

As we leave you this Christmas evening, a look at the midnight mass celebrations from Washington's National Cathedral. And St. Patrick's Cathedral right here in New York City.

Happy holidays. I'm Daryn Kagan.

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