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Stormy Christmas in Parts of U.S.; Obamas Celebrate in Hawaii; Stormy Christmas in Parts of U.S.; World Leaders on the Mend; Inspiration from Wounded Warriors; Christmas Celebrations Around the World; "12 Days of Christmas" More Costly; Actors Charles Durning and Jack Klugman Die; Celtic Woman Tours the U.S.

Aired December 25, 2012 - 11:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Thanks for joining us on this Christmas day. Merry Christmas. We are keeping you updated on the latest news, also bringing you Christmas celebrations from around the world.

A lot of people are getting something that was not on the Christmas wish list. We are talking about the stormy weather. This powerful system that could dump 4 to 6 inches of snow and sleet on parts of southern great plains, the Ozarks as well. The south is under the threat of severe weather and possible tornadoes.

The storm is already causing problems on the roads. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says westbound Interstate 40 was temporarily shut down for two miles in a suburb of Oklahoma City this morning. They say that freezing rain is probably to blame for a chain reaction crash involving 20 vehicles. You see it there, including three big rigs.

Alexandra Steele, she is tracking the storm at the CNN Weather Center.

Alexandra, wow. We've got a lot going on there.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, absolutely. Take a look at this. You know, severe weather is just beginning to ramp up today. We're looking at a whole day with severe weather.

Tornado watches you can see. Look at this, I-10, right along the Gulf Coast, from Houston, all the way to New Orleans.

And this is just really the beginning of it. We're looking at incredibly severe weather. Tornado watches and tornado warnings. Tornado warnings meaning these storms have produced rotation and have been detected. And you can see right there.

So, right now, it's eastern Texas, moving into Louisiana, kind of to give you a perspective. I know it's kind of hard to tell where we are, south of I-20. Here is Tyler, Texas. Here's Shreveport, Louisiana. All of these moving Northeast and this is just the beginning of really what could be an inundation of severe weather today and really a rash of tornadoes which is really quite rare for Christmas Day.

So here is a look from Houston to New Orleans, the beginning of the day from now through kind of early afternoon. And as we head toward afternoon and into evening, Atlanta, Birmingham, so dangerous tornadoes, winds 60 to 80 miles per hour, straight line winds could be a factor as well, as well as damaging hail. So you kind of get the perspective and the gravity of this. That is the severe weather side.

Now, on the back side in Oklahoma City, we're talking snow, although, you know, you've seen the pictures along I-40 of the dangers we're seeing on the road. Oklahoma City had the potential for five to eight inches of snow, but what's happened is we're seeing a lot of ice develop. So that's cutting down on the snowfall accumulations and totals for Oklahoma City.

Maybe now two to four, but look what happens. North of Little Rock, two to six potentially, and then around Paducah through Kentucky, six to 12 potentially, with blizzard warnings and then as we head from today into tonight, the snow moves all the way in toward Ohio and then the potential, Suzanne, in western New York and Upstate New York for 12 plus inches of snow.


STEELE: So this is just the beginning of really a tough few days.

MALVEAUX: This is the day to stay inside, wrap yourself in a blanket. Open your gifts and just hunker down.

STEELE: Yes. That sounds great.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Alexandra. Appreciate it. We're going to get back with you later in the hour as well.

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas in Britain without a broadcast greeting from the royal family. This year's remarks from Queen Elizabeth aired just this last hour. While the message itself does not change the technology does. Would you believe 3D?

Yes. Eighty years after the queen's grandfather began the tradition with a crackly address over wireless, Elizabeth II wished the Brits a happy Christmas in 3D.

In his Christmas Day message to the city and the world, Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace in countries at war with themselves. He singled out Mali, Nigeria, and especially Syria.


POPE BENEDICT XVI (through translator): Yes, may peace be brought for the people of Syria, deeply wounded and divided by a conflict which does not spare even the defenseless and reaps innocent victims. Once again, I appeal for an end to the bloodshed, easier access for the relief of refugees and the displaced and dialogue in the pursuit of a political solution to the conflict.


MALVEAUX: Last night, as always, the Pope celebrated Christmas Eve mass in St. Peter's Basilica. He reminded Christians everywhere to leave room for God in their busy lives.

But you can't get closer to Christmas than Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Vast crowds turned out for midnight mass near the spot considered Jesus' actual birth place. Tourism officials estimated 20 percent jump over the last year in foreign pilgrims in part because of the church's recent designation as a U.N. world heritage site.

The Obama family celebrated the president's birth place in Hawaii and, yes, Christmas brings us one day closer to possibly the fiscal cliff, the huge tax increases, spending cuts that could take effect in one week or so.

Brianna Keilar, she is watching there in Hawaii, joining us with the update.

And, first of all, Brianna, how is the president, how is the first family spending the holiday?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Presumably right now they are sleeping in, Suzanne, because it is still very early here as you know.

MALVEAUX: What time is it?

KEILAR: We are expecting -- of course, they'll have a Christmas. Let's see, 6:00 in the morning, bright and early.


KEILAR: We've been at it for a few hours. But we are expecting they'll have a nice Christmas meal at the house they're renting in Kailua. Sam Kass, the White House chef, is here. Maybe we'll get details on exactly what they are going to eat.

But there is nothing on the president's public schedule. That said, he is frequently gone and visited with troops in the past, so we wouldn't be surprised if he did that again today.

I will tell you that Bo the dog is actually along for the ride here in Hawaii and the White House released a video where Bo just really kind of steals the show. Let's look at a little of that. This is from the first lady going to the National Children's Medical Center and reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and she got a little help from the first dog.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm the president and CEO of Children's National.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: This is exactly what he does at home. He tries to beat Malia and Sasha to my lap. This is one of my favorite things to do during the holidays is coming to the children's hospital to see all of you. And I want to thank --



KEILAR: This is actually something, Suzanne, that first ladies have done since the 1950s. Bess Truman was the first to do it.

So, yes. She said she enjoyed coming to the hospital. It's a long standing tradition.

MALVEAUX: You know, Brianna, it's funny because the first time I saw Bo at the White House, he was really small. I mean, that dog is huge now. I can't believe that he is that big.

And is the president going to get any work done? Tell us a little bit about the fiscal cliff here. We know the senate is going to come back on Thursday. Do we expect the president to come back to Washington and deal with trying to avoid these tax increases and the spending cuts?

KEILAR: It really does sound like he'll be coming back, Suzanne. It's not official. The White House hasn't put out a schedule update. But it seems to be more a matter of when he is coming back rather than if.

You know, the Senate will be reconvening on Thursday. All eyes there as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tries to cobble together something that can get some Republican support. We'll be waiting to see exactly when President Obama is coming back, but we understand that the Senate, even though it reconvenes on Thursday, may not -- Senate Democrats may not roll out a bill until closer to the New Year --

MALVEAUX: All right.

KEILAR: -- as they try -- and also get some Republican support, but also put pressure on the House to take it up, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. We'll be following that very closely. Brianna, have a wonderful Christmas and, of course, we'll talk with you a little bit later, if there are any developments on the fiscal cliff.

Stay with CNN for any movement on that standoff day or night.


TECH SGT. JOE WOOLSTON & FAMILY, U.S. AIR FORCE: We're the Woolstons in Turkey. I'm Joel, Amy, Colton, Amory, Katy, Sidney, Courtney (ph). We'd like to wish happy holidays to our family, Bruce and Diane Gessen (ph), in Idaho. Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!



MALVEAUX: Christmas also accompanied by sadness and grief. In Newtown, Connecticut, people are still mourning for the 20 children and six adults who were killed when a gunman burst into their school and opened fire.

Well, this round-the-clock vigil is under way in remembrance of those shooting victims. A candle was lit in honor of each of them. Volunteers are being asked to take half hour shifts to keep those candles burning. The vigil started at midnight and will continue until 11:59 tonight.

The tragedy in Newtown was followed by an outpouring of support from around the world and from nearby communities. And today, the entire Newtown Police Department is actually getting Christmas day off, thanks to the generosity of their fellow officers.

Police from neighboring towns volunteered to fill in so that Newtown officers could spend Christmas with their families.

Joining us on the phone, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. He has been through quite a lot -- and your officers have been through quite a lot as well as the community.

Give us a sense of what this means for them to simply be with their own loved ones, their own kids, in this time of recovery and grief.

CHIEF MICHAEL KEHOE, NEWTOWN POLICE DEPT. (via telephone): Suzanne, you are absolutely correct. Christmas is a time of giving and at this time, we were gifted with our law enforcement partners volunteering their time to have our officers spend time with their families. I know that on behalf of all of the men and women of the Newtown Police Department, we are eternally grateful for their support and contributions today.

MALVEAUX: You know, nobody could even imagine what the first responders and the officers went through, what they saw inside of that school. How are they coping today? What are you doing to help them in the community?

KEHOE: Well, besides giving them a day off, encouraging them to be with their families and go to religious services and to certainly reach out to their friends and neighbors so that they feel a sense of love and hope.

MALVEAUX: Is there a sense of how this community, how your community and your own family can recover if that is possible to how you move forward?

KEHOE: Well, we certainly are going to move forward, Suzanne. We have, you know, several memorials in our community. There are many, many are luminaries.

Our plan for the future is to gather all those gifts and those memorials and to eventually use them in some way to make this very large memorial in our community. And we'll have our community be a part of that so we do it correctly and appropriately.

MALVEAUX: You mentioned on your web page, you wrote a message expressing sympathy to the victims' families and praising the first responders, the teachers, the entire community. I want to read this for our viewers. You say, "The Newtown Police Department will work with our community partners to restore a sense of security and normalcy to Newtown. Our law enforcement professionals are committed to helping the community through this difficult period."

What do you think is the most important thing right now that the community needs to start, to begin this healing process?

KEHOE: Well, they should be assured the town of Newtown is a safe place to live. With all of the law enforcement people we've had in the community over the last ten days or so, you can certainly see the presence of those officers being felt by our community. So, as we move forward and heal, that presence will still be felt and the town of Newtown should feel very, you know, grateful that we have so much support from our law enforcement partners.

MALVEAUX: And, Chief, I understand that you, too, have a message you wanted to deliver to those who have reached out to you as well.

KEHOE: Yes. We cannot say thank you enough for the -- as you said -- the worldwide support we have received. Through the e-mails, the food, the cards, the gifts, it's been overwhelming and over the top and it will take us weeks to get back to everybody who has been showing their support and gifts to us.

MALVEAUX: Chief Michael Kehoe, we also want to thank you as well. It really has been a blessing. Your community, what you have taught us through this tragedy, empathy to hold our loved ones tighter and as the president said, really to get a sense of what is really important in this -- in this world.

So, thank you. That has been a blessing for us as well. We appreciate your time.

KEHOE: Thank you.


CAPT. AMANDA PETKOWSKI, U.S. AIR FORCE: Hi. I'm Captain Amanda Petkowski at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. And I want to take a second to say merry Christmas and happy New Year to you, my family in Highlands Ranch, Colorado -- my dad Al, my mom Deborah, my sister Liz, and my dog Jackson. I love you and I miss you. Mwah!



MALVEAUX: We've been covering the bloodshed in Syria. And increasingly, civilians now are the targets of military attacks. The death toll from the air raids on two bakeries has actually climbed to more than 115 people. Even more startling, six rebel fighters died after reportedly inhaling an odorless white gas that was released from canister bombs.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm that story. But a doctor in the rebel stronghold of Homs says he treated about 30 people, their symptoms range from breathing problems, headaches, hallucinations, to more serious conditions including paralysis, seizures, and blindness.

I'm joined by Mohammed Jamjoom from Beirut, Lebanon, to talk a little bit about this.

I understand that there's a doctor who managed to treat some of these patients. A couple things, first of all, how did that happen? How did he treat them? And could there be some remedy to help identify what this gas was?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well; Suzanne, this was Dr. Abu al Fida, who is in Homs province, whom we spoke with. He said that he treated about 30 of the more than 60 people who had been affected by this gas. Now, he said that of those that he treated, they responded well to atropine which he says is sometimes used to treat people who suffered from sarin gas. But he said it's important to point that it's unclear at this stage what the substance may have been.

Now, as you mentioned, of those affected, people suffered symptoms like paralysis, seizures, muscle spasms, in some cases, blindness. But he also told us others who were exposed to the gas who were further away from the source suffered difficulty breathing, disorientation, hallucination, nervousness, and a lack of limb control. That can be similar to exposure to excessive amounts of tear gas.

Again, very important to point out at this stage even the doctor we spoke with, unsure about what exactly this substance was these people were exposed to.

MALVEAUX: Yes, I want to be very careful you don't over state that.

Tell us a little bit what has taken place now. I mean, they have targeted civilians before, but now, you've got these bombings, these bakeries. These are just people who are lining up to get bread essentially. Are we looking at a shift, if you will, in the fighting that is taking place on the ground where now, civilians become widespread targets?

JAMJOOM: Suzanne, as horrific as all this news is about the bombing targeting bakeries, according to opposition activists, we must remember that starting in late August, we heard from Human Rights Watch, they documented at least 10 separate cases in Aleppo province of bakeries there, just these last several months, coming under attack. The activists that we speak with say they believe that when crowds gather in bread lines outside of these bakeries, that they are seen as a threat by the Syrian military. That's one of the reasons they believe they come under attack.

The Syrian government denies they attack civilians that are lined up for bread. But more and more we hear about these incidents.

The past two days, we are told first in Hama province that hundreds of people were lined up. This was the first day on Sunday that the bakery had been opened, that the town had been liberated a few days before that. There were rebels in there and that's where it was targeted. The Syrian government denies having done so.

Yesterday, the very next day in Homs province, we hear of another bakery that comes under attack. Opposition activists say women and children were killed in that attack, just terrible, terrible news. All this playing out against the back drop of more diplomacy, people trying to come to some sort of solution there. It hasn't happen.

And the activists we speak with fear that more of these attacks will be happening in the days and months to come -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Mohammed, I am assuming the government does have some ability to be able to tell whether or not these are rebel groups or if these are women and children who are simply lined up to get bread. That sounds like an explanation that people really are not buying there.

Is that accurate? Is that fair to say?

JAMJOOM: Absolutely. Very different narratives we hear from different groups on the ground. The Syrian government maintains that these attacks are the works of terrorists. This is how they call opposition fighters. This is the term that they use, they call them terrorists.

But the opposition activists that we speak with, the rebel Free Syrian Army members that we speak with, say no this was the Syrian government systematically targeting civilians in areas where they know they are lined up.

MALVEAUX: All right.

JAMJOOM: Again, the Syrian government denies it, but the Syrian government coming under more condemnation from international groups for these actions -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Mohammed, thank you.

I mean, all you have to do is take a look at this amateur video from one of these bombings at the bakery that shows folks there. They are screaming. There was one man who looks into the camera and simply yells, where are you, world? I mean, there are people here who are calling attention to what is taking place on the ground and really suffering and want the rest of the world to do something.

Mohammed, thank you very much. We appreciate your reporting. We'll be following the story as we always do.

Later today, Egyptian officials -- they are expected to announce the official result on the vote of a new constitution. Supporters of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, they say that 64 percent of voters backed this.

So the opponents, however, claimed the referendum was rigged. They also say that the document fails to protect the rights of women and minorities. Now, this is creating a new constitution. It really is a key step in Egypt's transition to democracy. It is also setting the stage for a new parliament to be formed.

In India, a policeman has died after being injured during violent protests over the weekend. More than 75 officers were hurt when they fought demonstrators in New Delhi. Now, the protesters, they are angered over a gang rape earlier this month of a woman on a public bus.

The woman, a 23-year-old medical student, she is still in the hospital. Doctors say her condition is now worse. She is being treated for internal bleeding and is getting high doses of antibiotics.

Across the east coast of Malaysia more than 6,000 people have been evacuated. You can see the pictures there in the wake of storms that caused severe flooding. Authorities warn that two major rivers are at dangerous levels. Heavy rain is expected to continue for several more days.


MALVEAUX: All right. When you think about 2012, so many images come to mind. The sudden death of Whitney Houston, of course, a tragedy, the struggle to avoid the fiscal cliff, and a luxury ship, cruise ship on its side in the water.

Well, now think about the advances made in science. Some of them dazzle the eye. Sometimes, they almost went unnoticed.

John Zarrella counts down the top 10.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At number 10: A revolutionary camera called Lytro.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's such a powerful technology breakthrough that this will forever change how we all take and experience pictures.

ZARRELLA: The camera captures the entire light field, allowing the picture's focus and perspective to be changed after it's been taken.

Number nine: NASA's Dawn spacecraft sent back staggering data about an asteroid 325 miles in diameter called Vesta. It appears Vesta went through some stages of planetary evolution. It's one of a kind in the solar system.

CAROL RAYMOND, DAWN SCIENCE TEAM: What's clear to us is that Vesta appears to be the only intact proto-planet that's left.

ZARRELLA: Number eight: You may have heard the term God particle. Scientists call it Higgs boson. The European Nuclear Research Organization called CERN claims to have found it.

Why is it a big deal? Think Big Bang Theory. DR. MICHIO KAKU: And this particle, we think, was in fact, a particle like this was the fuse that set off the explosion which created the universe.

ZARRELLA: Researchers found it after analyzing data from proton collisions generated by a particle accelerator.

At seven: A leap of faith. Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking jump.

Baumgartner broke the free fall record and the sound barrier, jumping from 128,000 feet in a revolutionary spacesuit.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER: I said I know the whole world is watching right now, and I wish the world could see what I see.

ZARRELLA: Six: Young children dying at an alarming rate in Cambodia and with alarming speed. It was a medical mystery. Streptococcus, dengue and a pathogen called EV71 were unusually aggressive.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta was there when the mystery was solved.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They found that those organisms in conjunction with these kids getting steroids, probably led to such an aggressive course.

ZARRELLA: Number five: SpaceX became the first commercial company to rendezvous and dock a space craft to the International Space Station. It marked a new beginning -- private companies taking over for NASA, sending cargo and eventually humans to the station.

Number four: Scientists found the Great Barrier Reef, the largest in the world, is in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has disappeared over the last 27 years. That's a momentous change.

ZARRELLA: Scientists attribute much of the loss to storm damage.

At number three: We go to the Pacific, and the deepest part of any ocean in the world with famous film director and explorer James Cameron. First, test dives.

JAMES CAMERON, FILM DIRECTOR: Got about five system failures that prevented me from going on.

ZARRELLA: Finally, in a submersible called Deep Sea Challenger, Cameron went down 35,000 feet.

Number two: Melting ice. Scientists using satellite and aircraft data have found the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing three times as much ice as 20 years ago. Giant rifts appeared in places like Antarctic's Pine Island Glacier. Combined, Antarctica and Greenland have contributed to one fifth of all sea level rise over the past 20 years.

And our number one is called "seven minutes of terror". The rover Curiosity survived a harrowing ride through the Martian atmosphere in a landing method never before attempted, prompting an outpouring of emotion from the NASA team.

Curiosity is now roaming the landing site, hunting for signatures of past life, water, carbon, methane. If it finds any, Curiosity might well be our number one again next year.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


MALVEAUX: And don't miss our "Top-10 of 2012" special as CNN revisits the stories that captured the country's attention. My colleague, Don Lemon, shares with you the biggest stories of the year in crime, politics, money, and even the most scandalous stories. "Top-10 of 2012," tonight at 7:00 eastern.


SPC. ASHLEY EADY, U.S. MILITARY: Hi. My name is Specialist Ashley Eady, from 3rd Brigade, 3rd I.D., camp here Kuwait. Shout out to my brother, PFC Christopher Mallard, stationed in Alaska. I love you. Merry Christmas. And I miss you.



MALVEAUX: Weather making news in parts of the country this Christmas. The south is under the threat of severe weather, and possible tornadoes as well. And a winter storm warning is in effect for much of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and parts of southern Missouri. The storm is already causing problems on the roads. Westbound Interstate 40 was temporarily shut down for two miles. This is in Oklahoma City this morning. The highway patrol says freezing rain is probably to blame for a chain-reaction crash involving 20 vehicles.

Want to get an update on the storm from our meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, at the CNN Weather Center.

Wow, we have a lot going on throughout the country. It's one of those days you should probably stay inside and hunker down. What are we watching?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What aren't we watching, Suzanne? You're totally right.

This is actually just the beginning of what's going to be an incredibly rough 48 hours.

So here's the big picture. Want to show you the Deep South with all of the storms. About 5,000 lightning strikes in the last couple of hours. This is what the radar looks like. Here is a little window. If you're sitting in your own comfy chair and wondering what it was like in the Deep South, you can see from Atlanta to Oklahoma City. This is Oklahoma City. Now we'll see a very stormy day there. Freezing drizzle. Right now, it's 24 degrees. A north wind at 23. Snow and sleet will turn to all snow after the noon hour. Total day time sleet and snow accumulation about three to five inches.

Let's take you to Atlanta, which won't get into the snow, but the fog has been really prevalent this morning. You can see, kind of cutting off the taller buildings downtown. Fog and mist, 53. Rain comes in in earnest after about 3:00. And then tonight, that is when the severe weather threat finds its way into Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia.

So here is a look. Tornado watches posted until 4:00 and 1:00 central time. But, you know, tornado watches, we're really going to see them and even tornado warnings. We've had them throughout the morning. They have since expired. But it's been this line, kind of tough to see, but this is eastern Texas and in toward Louisiana. And that's the movement. These storms moving northeast at about 45 to 50 miles per hour. So that is the severe side. And here's where the threat will be. As we head through the afternoon, kind of the axis of the severe weather shifts eastward. Today, Houston, New Orleans. Tonight and through the afternoon, Atlanta and Birmingham.

And then for tomorrow, we're still not out of the woods. Damaging winds, Suzanne, winds today 60 to 80 miles per hour, straight line winds not out of the question in the Deep South. And there's a whole snow component we could get to, too. A little bit later.

MALVEAUX: All right. Wow. Lots going on there. Have to get on the phone and call my relatives and make sure everybody is all right.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Alexandra. Appreciate it.

Snowy, stormy Christmas for a lot of folks, and we'll be paying close attention to the weather throughout the day.

But not only does snow not impede the holidays in Sweden. It is actually a vital ingredient. The wheelies these Santas are popping wouldn't be half as impressive on dry roads. Check them out. That's pretty cool.

In Thailand, Christmas arrives on elephants. A procession of them delivering toys to a school on Christmas Eve. We're told they even danced to Christmas carols. The teacher says it is the best day of the year.

In Australia, the weather is opposite of frightful. Check out that Santa. I'm jealous. Santa riding on a wave.


Summer time there, which explains Santa's lack of winter flab. Look at him. Looking pretty good, I think.

Finally, yuletide bash in shanghai that I can almost guarantee is not going to become a tradition everywhere. Check it out.





MALVEAUX: OK. So one of the dancers says Gangnam Style ignites your passion in winter. So to all, a good night.




MALVEAUX: Quite a number of former world leaders and one current leader are spending this Christmas in the hospital. Former President George H.W. Bush was hoping to be home by now after fighting bronchitis for a month. Doctors in Houston are saying they are being extra cautious in light of the recent setbacks, including a slight fever. The 41st president is 88 years old and in stable condition.

Britain's former Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, she is recovering from bladder surgery last week. A spokeswoman says that the country's first and, so far, only female prime minister, is doing absolutely finem but likely will not leave the hospital for a few more days. Thatcher is 87 years old. She retired from public life after a stroke 10 years ago.

Nelson Mandela is looking much better. That is in the words of South Africa's current president. He says that he is happy to have visitors on this special day. The 94-year-old South African patriarch was hospitalized with a lung infection, but then had surgery for gallstones. He has not appeared in public since 2010.

And Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, is said to be on the mend after his latest operation for cancer. The country's vice president said Mr. Chavez phoned on Christmas Eve from the hospital bed in Cuba. The vice president calls that the best present that we could get. That is in his words.

Well, show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy. That is what novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote. But then he never met the man that Barbara Starr did on a recent trip to Walter Reed Army Hospital. These guys are heroes, but they are hardly tragic. In fact, they are inspiring. Take a look.


STAFF SGT. TRAVIS MILLS, U.S. ARMY: Pushed forward and opened -- throw my elbow, it unlocks it. Throw it back and that's how I maneuver.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wounded troops in rehab at the holiday time, all Christmas miracles.

Meet Travis Mills, one of the troops I visited with, asking them to send holiday wishes to their buddies.

MILLS: Hi everybody. I'm staff Sergeant Travis Mills, of the 82nd Airborne Division, 4th Brigade Combat Team. I want to wish everybody a merry Christmas and happy new year to all of the military forces overseas and home. And a special shout out to my guys at the First Platoon and Four Squad, the Gun Show. Miss you guys, love you. Have a merry Christmas.

STARR: Eight months ago, he stepped on an IED.

MILLS: We thought it was clear but it wasn't. It took all four limbs but it didn't take my life. I am thankful for that.

STARR: It can be a struggle just to walk again.

BO REICHENBACH, U.S. NAVY: I'm Bo Reichenbach and I'm with the U.S. Navy. I just want to give a shout out to my friends and family. Have a good holiday and stay safe.

STARR: Army Specialist Tyler Jeffries also lost his legs.

SPEC. TYLER JEFFRIES, U.S. ARMY: Just want to give a shout to all my friends and brothers back in Afghanistan. Happy holidays. I wouldn't be here without you guys.

STARR: Tyler is already getting ready for next Christmas.

JEFFRIES: I want to start walking as fast as I can because I am in that wheelchair hours every day. I want to be able to get up in my own house and get a cup out of the cupboard.

LANCE CPL. JOSHUA LANGSTON-WHITE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Happy holidays to my family. And I got a bunch of guys in from my unit getting Purple Hearts today. I say I'm thinking about you guys today. Got a special place for you in my heart.

STARR: Joshua Langston-White says it is a good holiday season because of his buddies.

LANGSTON-WHITE: It is, definitely. They're there. They're alive and they're breathing. So it's good. It's good.

SGT. ADAM KEYES, U.S. ARMY: I'm Sergeant Adam Keyes, combat engineer, 20th Engineer Brigade Airborne out of Fort Bragg. I want to give a shout to the guys in the 27th still overseas.

STARR: A triple amputee, there is one thing Adam didn't lose, his airborne wings tattoo.

KEYES: Yes, you can take this one off.


STARR: Yes. No, no, I didn't even realize.

KEYES: The wings are still there, too, the airborne wings. (LAUGHTER)

So that's good.

STARR: That's good?

KEYES: Yes, of course.

STARR: So that is pretty cool, the airborne wings --

KEYES: Yes. They made it.

MILLS: So as a quadruple amputee eight months ago, laying in bed hooked up to hoses, I can walk now.

This one and then, oop, going to lean a little. Fist form again. Bam. And jelly fish, jelly fish, jelly fish, jelly fish.

STARR (voice-over): Barbara Starr, CNN, Walter Reed National Military Medical center.



MALVEAUX: Americans love "Christmas on 34th Street," "Ralphie's Neighborhood," but much of the world celebrates Christmas. Even Senegal has Santa Claus, though many people are Muslim there. Many families take kids to sit on Santa's knee and decorate their homes with lights, just as we do here.





MALVEAUX: And, of course, at Christmas, children are the same the world over. In Japan, you find mirror-image, child-like wonder when the magic moment arrives. Suddenly, it is your turn to get the gift, you open the present -- as you can see that is when the real fun begins. It's just the simple joy of getting a new toy. Look at her face.

Now to Cathedral Square in Moscow. This is a giant Christmas tree in the Kremlin. It's the biggest in Russia. Designers decorated it using a patriotic theme, mixing the colors of the Russian flag -- red, white, and blue.

And finally, Syria. In a country now engaged in civil war, these peaceful Christmas scenes stand in stark contrast. True spirit of Christmas -- peace, joy -- somehow in the middle of the chaos. Syrians taking a few precious moments to remember. Well, we all know the song, even if we don't know all the words, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Except, of course, five golden rings -- we know that one. But this Christmas, those rings, everything else on the list there, a lot more expensive, making "The 12 Days of Christmas" a very expensive tradition, especially in these struggling times.

Richard Quest from London is adding up the tab.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So you've decided to be very traditional in your Christmas presents this year and you're going to buy "The 12 Days of Christmas." You know, all the items that are in the song. Well, PNC Bank has worked out how much it will cost, and it is 5 percent more expensive this year than last year.

And this is why. Let's start with the partridge in a pear tree, up --


QUEST: -- 11 percent. The cost of feed, housing, storage, pear trees, it's all raised the cost.

And then you have those five gold rings. You know the price of gold has been very high. As a result, it's up 16.3 percent. Those gold rings are pretty pricey.


QUEST: So on to the living things. The six geese a laying, up nearly 30 percent because of storage and feed stock. The seven swans a- swimming, up 11.1 percent.

But what about those humans? What about, for example, the maids a- milking? Unchanged. They're manual labor, unskilled.


QUEST: The drummers drumming, it's up 5.5 percent.

How much does it all cost? If you buy the whole lot, "The 12 Days of Christmas," $25,431. A rise of just about 5 percent.

Now, as for the true cost, because, remember, some of them you have to buy again and again, look at that --


QUEST: -- $107,000. That's a whopping rise.

And don't forget, if you buy it online on the Internet, it's even more expensive because of shipping and handling.

Finally, the cost of buying Christmas every year. Just look at the way it just keeps getting more and more expensive. Overall, when you put the 12 days together, "The 12 Days of Christmas," you can see it's not a cheap business. You keep buying again and again and again.

Richard Quest, CNN, London.



MALVEAUX: If you've been to the movies, seen a play, or watched TV in the past 40 years, you probably know and love Charles Durning, one of 10 children born to a poor family in upstate New York. Durning once said he was born a character actor. He stole scenes in the darkest dramas and slap-stick comedies, from Tennessee Williams to Mel Brooks. On Christmas Eve, at his home in Manhattan, Charles Durning passed away. He was 89 years old.

We have also lost the unforgettable Jack Klugman. Like Durning, Klugman never looked like the leading man, but he was a star in every sense.

Our Alina Cho looks back.



ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For millions of television viewers, Jack Klugman will always be sports writer Oscar Madison, the cigar smoking, beer guzzling slob in "The Odd Couple."


JACK KLUGMAN, ACTOR: Felix, will you stop it. Now, we're losing here. Now, come on, let's go and get to together.


CHO: Surprisingly, "The Odd Couple" wasn't his most successful series, at least not at first. It ran for five years on ABC and never ranked higher than 36 in the ratings, but reruns on local stations and Nick at Night turned it into a cult classic, making it far more popular than Klugman's other TV series, "Quincy."



KLUGMAN: You are about to enter the most fascinating experience of --


CHO: Klugman was the wily medical examiner for seven seasons. The show premiered in 1976 as part of NBC's mystery movie. It quickly became a weekly series. When it ended, Klugman made brief appearances but stayed mainly on his ranch, raising horses. He continued to smoke cigarettes and eventually lost a vocal cord to cancer.

JACK KLUGMAN, ACTOR: When it first happened, of course, I hid from it because I was sure I was going to get better. And I didn't want anyone to know I couldn't talk because then I wouldn't get a job.


KLUGMAN: How are you felling, fellow?


CHO: One of his most memorable film roles was opposite the late Jack Lemon, in "Days of Wine and Roses." Klugman played a counselor or Alcoholics Anonymous.


KLUGMAN: How many strawberries does it take to start an allergy, and which one is the one that gives you the hives? Alcoholism is an illness. It's pretty hard to diagnose an illness until you've got it.

CHO: He joined another distinguished cast in the 1957 teleplay, "12 Angry Men."


KLUGMAN: Switchblades came with the neighborhood where I live. Funny, I never thought about it before. I guess you try to forget those things.


CHO: Klugman grew up in south Philadelphia. He married twice and had two sons. He earned two Emmy awards for his role on "The Odd Couple."

It was Klugman's long-time friend and co-star, Tony Randall, who helped him through his throat cancer treatment and persuaded him to resume his acting in the 1990s. With just one vocal cord doing the work of two, Klugman returned for a stage version and a TV version of "The Odd Couple".


TONY RANDALL, ACTOR: Let me hear you say please.

KLUGMAN: Give me pastrami or I'll strangle you.


CHO: While the two continued to reprise their Felix and Oscar roles on stage and television, Klugman admitted they were probably too old for the parts. But he added, who knows them better than us? I am Oscar Madison. When Randall died in 2004, Klugman said this to CNN's Larry King.


KLUGMAN: It's amazing. You know a guy is going to die, you know it, but you can't prepare for the finality. I don't care if it's 110, and they tell you he's gone, it just knocks me out.

You can't accept the finality of it. As I say, a world without Tony Randall is a world I can never recognize.


CHO: Jack Klugman died in his home in North Ridge, California, with his wife, Peggy, by his side. He was 90 years old.

Alina Cho, CNN, New York.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a lucky marzipan pig which, in Germany, is a symbol of riches and wealth and strength and fertility. And at the New Year, you give it to those you love to wish them luck. And sometimes, if you're especially lucky, they'll be written by what Fred has in his hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. This is a chimney sweeper, which is also a big tradition here in Germany. It's also a symbol of good luck, especially if you touch the button on the chimney sweeper's coat.

Happy New Year --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- from Germany.


MALVEAUX: They're not your average Christmas carols. The music group, Celtic Woman, has been putting an Irish twist on traditional songs for eight years now. The group releasing its second Christmas album is called "Home for Christmas."

Our Jessica Dunn caught up with the women after a performance at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.



LISA LAMBE, SINGER, CELTIC WOMAN: It's very excited to get to sort of feel that power that you have at the start of the show when the music starts and it takes everybody on the journey.


SUSAN MCFADDEN, SINGER, CELTIC WOMAN: I think all over the world, I think there is that sort of common thread of Christmas is being with your family and celebrating being together.

CHLOE AGNEW, SINGER, CELTIC WOMAN: I would be happy to sing Christmas mass music every month --


-- of every year. I love it. It's just fantastic. Very special when you get the opportunity to go into studio and record these amazing, amazing sox.

LAMBE: I feel a bit spoiled actually getting to every day like since the 28th of November getting to perform Christmas music. I don't think I could feel any more festive.


MAIREAD NESBIT, FIDDLER, CELTIC WOMAN: It is an honor bringing, you know, our brand of Celtic music, which is a mix of contemporary Celtic, traditional, and classical to everybody.


JESSICA DUNN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you draw inspiration from fiddlers in other genres?

NESBIT: Absolutely. I think -- we all draw inspiration from so many vocalists and musicians, and I, myself, love the Cajun music. Certainly, in the beginning of the reel, there's a very Cajun start to it there.


LAMBE: The Irish are fantastic story tellers, so I think that always helps. Bringing something to the table is the approach you take with telling the story. And if you get behind the words and tell the story, I think it makes it feel real and fresh and new.


AGNEW: If people can come in, leave their worries and their troubles at the door, and escape from it all for two hours, we all need that. We need it ourselves, to escape from the madness that can be our day- to-day lives now, and lose yourself in music that is from the heart, it's from the soul. And if people leave feeling better than when they came in, then our job is done.