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On the eve of Christmas, the Holy Land is relatively quiet. The expected millennium cults have either been removed or decided not to come.

How do foreigners spend Christmas in Kosovo? American soldiers will be keeping peace and missing their families. An aid worker has her portable Christmas kit, and 300 local children are turning in their war toys.

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In Beijing, one man is trying to the protect the toys of yesteryear and, in a small way, stem the tide of "Star Wars" and Disney characters.


A BEIJING TOY STORY: Visiting a children's toy exhibition in a military museum was odd enough, says the Monitor's Kevin Platt. But the cast of characters grew even more surreal as he looked around. Hanging on the museum walls were huge portraits of Mao, Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. Then he bumped into a man in a Santa suit from the YMCA. Santa had brochures announcing events marking Christmas, New Year's Eve, and the 90th anniversary of the Y in Beijing. "Maybe that's where I'll attend a Christmas Eve service," says Kevin, his voice rising in excitement.


HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Every single convict in Northern Ireland's major anti-terrorist prison went home for the holidays yesterday, a goodwill gesture from the British government that marked another milestone in peacemaking efforts there. Some 139 prisoners from both the Irish Republican Army and the province's major outlawed pro-British groups were given 12-day paroles.


DID THEY PUT A STAR ON TOP, Too? Tasmanian Sen. Bob Brown stands under what environmentalists call the world's tallest Christmas tree. The 262-foot- high mountain ash eucalyptus tree is scheduled to be felled next year.

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