by Inlander Staff

To help you make the most out of this holiday season, The Inlander Elves offer the following advice, in the form of a handy list of "DOs and DON'Ts."

1. Do Remember That 7-Year-Olds Can't Keep Secrets -- For all the fondue pots, long dresses, Enjoli gift sets and bath towels my mom usually got for Christmas, the one thing she probably really appreciated was some time away from her offspring. And thus it was that my dad took me out Christmas shopping one year. Dad was in search of a ladies' wristwatch, and this was back when Moscow had no malls, so people had to do all their Christmas shopping on Main Street. I remember the afternoon slipping into dusk, and trying to keep up with Dad's long strides as we pushed through crowds of other shoppers as we went in and out of Main Street's two or three jewelry stores. Finally, in the third one, we found it -- silver, to match Mom's wedding ring, with an oval face and a stretchy link band.

"Whaddya think, kiddo?" Dad asked.

"It's beautiful," I breathed, in the excited, over-enthused state little girls always seem to live in.

We drove home on snowy streets, and I mused on the passing houses in pepperminty silence, a candy cane wedged in my front teeth like a whistle.

"Now remember, it's a secret," Dad reminded me.

"OK, Dad," I said.

We got home, washed our hands and had just settled in for dinner when Mom asked, "So how did shopping go?"

"Fine," said Dad.

"Guess what we got you?" I said at the same time.

Nobody said anything. This should have been my cue to shut up, but instead I crowed "A ladies' wristwatch!"

"Oh, really?" Mom laughed, while Dad gave me a look that turned the blood in my veins into cold pancake batter.

Mom loved the watch, but I don't remember my dad taking me Christmas shopping again until I was old enough to drive. -- Sheri Boggs

2. Wait till Christmas Eve to Shop -- Why do you put yourself through this every single year? Worrying about finding that perfect gift for your imperfect loved ones. Battling the crowds. Procrastinating, planning, logistics, crappy Christmas music and department-store Santas. My advice? Put it all off until the 11th hour. Think about it: What's worse? Finally hitting the stores, or the mental energy you expend worrying about when you're actually going to get started? This year, don't even waste a second fretting about it. From this moment, resign yourself to the idea that you are going to do it all in one trip (preferably at one locale -- say, Hi-Co Village) at the very last minute, when you will encounter very few fellow shoppers and the inventory will be sufficiently depleted as to render decision-making a breeze ("Well, mauve is the only color they have, so...").

Over the next four weeks, while everyone else is running around out there like doomed laboratory mice in a maze, you'll be relaxing and enjoying the holiday season for a change, beaming with an insufferable smugness that comes from knowing that you alone among all the fools you call friends have beat the system. And you will thank me. -- Mike Corrigan

3. Something Unexpected -- Growing up in the '70s, before our current era of relative temperance, my brother and I watched with amusement and awe as my parents and their friends spent many a holiday season moving in a blur from one cocktail party to another. I thought all this was terribly glamorous, and even as a child I understood that my parents were the life of most of the parties they went to. Mom had a closet full of very groovy cocktail dresses, and Dad was sure to bring out his semi-famous mistletoe hat at least once a season. They were tan, and beautiful, and clever, and all their friends seemed to be, too.

But our favorite time was after the rush and frenzy of Christmas when we would go to our friends' cabin in central Oregon and spend New Year's week with them. The parties continued, but on a smaller scale, and we all spent the days together sledding, ice skating and playing games while cozy near the fireplace.

At bedtime, the adults would shoo us upstairs with strict orders that we were to go to sleep. Then they'd continue their party downstairs while we would watch them through the railing from above, wishing they would let us join in the fun.

One night we got our wish. About 2 o'clock in the morning, the grownups came upstairs, rousting us from bed as if we'd somehow let them down by sleeping. They wrapped us in coats and hats and gloves and drove us into the night, not even hinting at what they had planned. When the cars finally stopped and we all piled out, it dawned on us what they intended. We were going sledding on the golf course! The course was full of excellent sledding hills, but it was taboo, so we had never been allowed to try it.

I was thrilled, but also apprehensive. I looked over the lip of the hill and couldn't see the bottom. In fact, I couldn't see more than a few feet down the slope. Without warning, the first brave soul was on the sled and down the hill. They tracked his progress by following him with flashlights. The adults, in their altered state, seemed to think this was some sort of safety measure, but the attempts were futile and all the sledders eventually descended out of reach of the narrow beams. You couldn't argue with the grownups when they were in this state, so eventually my turn came, whether I wanted to or not. The ride was thrilling, and we went again and again until we were cold, wet and exhausted.

I know now that this might be considered questionable parenting, but there was a boldness in my parents that night -- a willingness to have an adventure -- that I long to capture with my own child. So maybe this year will be the year that I rouse her in the middle of the night and make a memory full of daring. -- Kris Dinnison

4. Embellish the Holiday Letter -- What is truth? With politicians, salespeople and Fox News retruthifying facts on a regular basis, that's not some kind of existential question any more. This practice has even crept into that once unsullied institution of the family holiday newsletter. You know, the mass-produced letter dropped in with the Christmas cards you receive each year. I've started noticing that these have become more and more unbelievable, so I just don't believe 'em.

For instance, I am certain that little cousin Johnny did not gain early admission to MIT after resolving the Pythagorean theorem with fridge magnets. Again, while I can't prove it, I know in my heart that my college roommate's wife is not joining the touring production of Mama Mia -- you know, the musical version of Abba. That has got to be a story -- she doesn't even have blonde hair! And we all know that Uncle Bob is still doing hard time -- 20 to life -- not "getting some much-needed R and R at a resort in upstate New York," as Aunt Ruthie suggested last Christmas.

I used to think all these people were better than me, making the holidays just another big disappointment. Finally I understand: They're just better liars than I am.

To fight back, I'm going to write my own highly embellished version of the past year's events, and you can, too. Got fired? Maybe what really happened is that you lost your job after blowing the whistle on your boss and his evil, Enron-like schemes. Lost your house and had to move into a trailer? Nope, you just decided to finally drop out of the rat race and ponder life's deeper meaning, far from the bustling city. See? It's fun.

There's an art to this: If it's too over-the-top, you'll expose yourself as a fraud. No, the goal here is to create just enough of a veneer of plausibility to lift you up, and make all your loved ones feel a little smaller. After all, what are friends and family for if not to give you the gift, unwittingly or not, of self-esteem? -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.

5. Give People What They Want -- I once gift-wrapped a floor jack. I'm not saying it was easy. Actually, the hardest part was getting it into the shopping cart at Target. Complete with the little leg thingies to rest the car on, the whole ensemble weighed about 80 pounds. The cardboard box it came it was the size of a small fridge, and of course it broke when I was trying to get it out of the trunk of my car.

Not very Christmas-y, you say? Well, let me tell you, the guy who found it waiting for him under the Christmas tree was ecstatic. For years.

I think you should give people what they really, really, REALLY want for Christmas -- and it doesn't matter what that is. I couldn't care less if it's a Salad Shooter, a Playboy subscription, a pair of garden shears or two pairs of nylons, nude, size medium, as long as it's what this person really wants. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a little predictable -- you know, give the coffee drinker his favorite coffee blend or the movie nut free tickets to AMC. One thing is certain: If you give people something they really want, you can be sure they'll use it and they will more than likely think of you as they do so.

And here is a little extra tip for those who are into lists: Take notes, even if it's only March. When Aunt Maude looks longingly at your new bubble gum-colored nail polish, write it down on the last page of your day planner. Come December, you won't have to agonize over whether to get her "Passion Pink #145" or "Perfect Pink #129" -- you'll just glance at your list complacently and think, "Passion Pink it is." -- Pia K. Hansen

6. Watch The Grinch -- The Cartoon! -- If you're all right with having your pants charmed off this holiday season, be sure to cozy up at some point with the timeless and inspired 1966 Chuck Jones-directed cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! featuring the voice of the incomparable Boris Karloff. With grace, simplicity and heart, it possesses everything sorely missing from director Ron Howard's exploitive and atrocious live-action 2000 remake starring Jim Carrey. Namely, it's got humility, warmth and the message that materialism and glitz have nothing at all to do with the true meaning of Christmas.

If, on the other hand, you wanna send your soul spiraling down into the cold black abyss this year, well, then, by all means then go out and rent (or better yet -- buy, buy, buy) Howard's steaming pile of Who-poo, which in a little over 90 minutes refutes every lesson the good doctor ever taught us, makes a mockery of our childhood memories and thoroughly earns in place in cinematic history as the most horrific so-called Christmas movie ever hatched by Hollywood. -- Mike Corrigan

7. Decorate Subversively -- Anyone can decorate with red and green -- where's the creativity in that? This year, let your personality shine through the glitter.

Fond of '50s modernism? Then paint your holidays with pink and turquoise. Progress was never more progressive than in those optimistic years of the Eisenhower administration. And forget about the silver bells and tinsel -- only chrome will do. Add a pink flamingo, dressed for the winter weather, drop Elvis' Blue Christmas on the turntable, and you'll be ready to go.

Since Christmas began as a celebration of birth, how about a baby shower theme? Swaddling clothes are all the rage, especially in sunny pastels. Mary was traveling far from home when the baby came, so she needed a few good girlfriends to bring along the practical gifts and make the manger a little more homey. A warm pot of tea and some fresh-baked spice cookies should round things out nicely.

Have you had it up to here with cute little critters and sentimental schmaltz? Then settle in for a hipster holiday. Gather up your bored insouciance and your ironic detachment and make the house fit your mood. Banish anything with gingham and lace; surround yourself with black, highlighted with denim and faux animal prints. Leather adds a dash of rebellion, too. Keep the bar stocked with the hard stuff, and serve it in mismatched Mason jars to anyone who dares come close. --Ann M. Colford

8. Stock up on Prozac -- When dipping your mug into the hot-buttered rum bowl, please remember that alcohol is a depressant. Frequently, so is the holiday season. We all know this is a time of year when you will be called upon to be cheerful, helpful and full of energy. You will probably have to climb up banisters, onto roofs and into attics to aid in holiday decorating. You will witness the madness of children in toy stores, people's breakdowns at the ATM machine and the frenzied high of the sales-addicted populace. You will repeat the same three sentences about what you've been doing for the past year to a variety of half-listening cousins.

You very well may have to endure the longest-winded prayer in history before digging into your cooling ham, and you should be prepared for your cousin's accusatory dinner table rant about how turkeys are pumped full of antibiotics before being sent off to the processing plant.

Some of you will have to count slowly to 10 as the family know-it-all corrects your recipes and as the family complainer uses the gathering as a personal forum for sympathy. You may have to repeatedly wake your grandparents when it's their turn to open a gift. Someone will probably storm off in a fit during a game of charades.

You can only hope that no one decides to take the opportunity to announce they have a rash, are dropping out of school or have resolved to change their gender.

You will need to give endless thanks to people for gifts you that baffle you and find places for the "collectables" that will collect only dust. You might find that what you thought were concert tickets inside that envelope is just a card. You will have to face the disheartening numbers in your checkbook and the monstrosity that is your gut, both of which will remind you of the gluttonous abundance in which we live.

Your therapist will be on vacation and will not call you back until the following Monday. To be prudent, therefore, please renew your Prozac (or like-oriented) medication before the holidays hit their peak. Because you know what they say: Happy Holidays. -- Cara Gardner

9. Cut Your Own Tree -- What's the most forlorn image every holiday season? Charlie Brown's pitiful little tree might seem like a candidate, but that scraggly icon is really kind of charming. No, the winner is clear every time you drive by a Christmas tree lot on the day after Christmas: It's all those trees nobody bought. We Americans are a wasteful lot to be sure, and leftover Christmas trees probably don't rate very high on the list of outrageous things we cast aside. It's just that, well, they're Christmas trees, for cryin' out loud!

Now, I'm not out to take jobs away from tree lot attendants -- I figure they'll always be there -- but maybe if we can cut the demand for mass-produced trees from Oregon, I won't have to get bummed out every Dec. 26. And there are practical reasons for seeking a tree somewhere outside the city limits, too. For one thing, who knows how long ago your tree from a lot was cut? Nobody, that's who. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is by bringing one home. If all the needles fall off within a day or two of being brought into your warm home, it's safe to say it was probably cut sometime in August. Merry Christmas, sucker.

Here's my solution: Cut your own tree. (Duh!) There are dozens of U-Cut lots in the Inland Northwest, including a bunch up on Green Bluff. Or, if you want to take your SUV a little farther off road than the grocery store parking lot, make a trip to a local national forest. Rangers there will sell you a tag (for really cheap), and you can find a tree in its natural habitat. And along with not dropping its needles any time soon, a wild Christmas tree should offer enough offbeat charm to match even Charlie Brown's. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.

10. Drink -- During college, finding myself a safe continent or two away from home each year, I always celebrated Thanksgiving with someone else's family. And each year, I learned that a particularly warm holiday feeling could come from finding out that someone else's family was more screwed up than yours.

One of these families belonged to my friend Tracey -- let's just use that name -- who was on the crew team with me. She was someone with whom I regularly sweated and strained in the freezing-cold Long Island Sound at four o'clock in the morning. We endured a lot together, and were in the regular sort of contact that serious teammates are. And one of the things that I got to share with her was her discovery that she was attracted to other girls.

Once she realized that nobody was particularly shocked, and that some people were a little turned on, she entered something that I call The Show-and-Tell Phase of being a lesbian.

Unfortunately, the effects of The Show-and-Tell Phase never extend beyond the college campus and the dance floor. On the train, in the station, and in the cab to her home for Thanksgiving that first year, Tracey showed not a hint of her newfound sexual status.

And so I entered this den of Connecticut civility, meeting Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother and His Wife, Divorced Aunt, and the visiting Grandfather and Grandmother. And it was at this time that I remembered one of the golden rules of the holidays. With four days and -- God help me -- nights stretching before me, the names "Tom Collins," "Manhattan" and "Martini" came to me. I decided to do what millions of other desperate holiday-copers have done since St. Nick let out his first "Ho, Ho, Ho": I drank. A lot.

It was a brilliant plan, and I proved to myself that I could survive in situations I had never thought possible to endure (to hear how the weekend turned out, see "Don't Say Much," No. 10 on the list of don'ts). And now, when I think about it, that's pretty much what the holidays are all about. -- Marty Demarest

1. Don't Force a Martha Stewart Christmas on People -- As the Grinch learned, Christmas comes whether the house is perfect or not. If funds are tight and time is tighter, just acknowledge the squeeze and enjoy the day anyway.

One of my favorite holiday seasons in recent memory came a few years ago, while I was in graduate school. I completed my final class project on Dec. 23, then worked on the morning of the 24th, leaving a single afternoon for my preparations. I had made arrangements with friends and family ahead of time, placing a strict financial limit on my gifts, and everyone understood the circumstances. I shopped for token gifts that still held meaning for me and my friends, then picked up a few last-minute items at the supermarket. The next day, amid the chaos of a semester's worth of books and papers, I shared a modest Christmas dinner with my parents and couple of other starving grad students. We watched an old movie on TV, listened to some favorite music, took a walk in the snow and just generally enjoyed each other's company. As it turned out, that was the last Christmas that my Dad was in his right mind; he died from Alzheimer's four years later.

I went into that holiday without any grand expectations, and the day exceeded all I could hope for. In earlier years, when I struggled to make everything picture-perfect, I always felt a nagging sense of disappointment when Christmas was over. Freed from the tyranny of expectations, I relaxed and enjoyed living in the moment.

So if you're going to model yourself after a domestic diva, try Julia Child instead. When Julia dropped a chicken on the floor, she didn't despair; she just grabbed the naked bird by the knees, dusted it off and proclaimed it fine. If you put cornstarch instead of baking powder in the muffins, don't panic. Just slice it up and call it unleavened cornbread, or give it a French name that no one can pronounce. If your friends and family are worthy of the title, they'll love you anyway. -- Ann M. Colford

2. Be a Scrooge -- Nobody takes words like "humbug" seriously anyway. Instead, practice random acts of kindness. But not the senseless-acts-of-beauty bumper-sticker variety: To avoid Scrooge status, you don't need to be strewing flowers in the paths of harried stockbrokers.

This isn't about bracelets of string emblazoned with "WWJD?" -- though doubtless that's the proper sentiment for the season. This is about wristbands marked QAF?

Qu'Amelie ferait-il? What Would Amelie Do?

In Guillaume Laurant and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 movie, a misfit gamine from Montmartre named Amelie overcomes her shyness by devoting herself to the cause of Generous Givers Anonymous. She acts as a matchmaker without anyone the wiser; she lures her homebound father out of his rut by playing a practical joke with his beloved garden gnome. She finds a cache of toys and mementos, then takes the trouble to locate the middle-aged man who had cherished it long ago.

With the people around you -- with your loved ones, sure, but with acquaintances and strangers, too -- you ought to do the same. Do what Amelie does.

Be a do-gooder, then shut the hell up about it. Nobody wants you hanging around afterwards, dropping hints and raising your eyebrows. Gift-giving isn't about you, after all; it's about them. The best gifts, instead -- at Christmas, or whenever -- provoke the kind of smiles that that you hear about secondhand and long after.

Still don't want to watch some pantywaist French movie that compels you to peer at subtitles?

Well, then, Ebeneezer, go right ahead and sit at home alone, nursing your fifth Bacardi and Coke, surrounded by your new 300-watt Panasonic SC-HT800V home theater system and the loving faces of all its little speakers. (You spent so much on them. They must adore you so.) The rest of us will be snuggled up with the people we love, giggling and tossing popcorn at each other's noses.

We'll be watching Amelie. -- Michael Bowen

3. Try to help People with gifts -- Ever get a present for Christmas that seemed more like a passive-aggressive bit of therapeutic intervention than an actual gift -- like giving a treadmill (hint, hint) to a guy with the case-of-beer-a-week belly? I used to give those kinds of gifts. The people on my list might get a mixed tape of music I was certain they needed to be exposed to, a T-shirt featuring a particularly well-chosen bit of offbeat pop culture or perhaps a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I knew was important although I never really figured out why.

Well, I don't do that anymore. I'd find the tapes in the junk drawer of their kitchen, the T-shirt would be used to wash the car and the book would just vanish. Questions about what they thought of it were answered with vague, "Oh yeah, I thought it was good -- the part about the, uh, motorcycles and everything..." They hadn't read it.

The point is, as I have learned, that people want to be delighted on Christmas, not lectured. While you might think you know what people need, the fact is they prefer stuff they want but don't really need. If Christmas gifts were only selected from the things people need, it wouldn't be the economic bonanza that makes the world go 'round.

Still, if you find a book that will delight someone, go ahead and buy it as a gift. If it's a book you want them to read on their path to personal progress, recommend it. If you really, really want them to read it, go ahead and buy them a copy. Just don't do it at Christmas. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.

4. Go Down Your Chimney -- It happens every year. Right around Christmas, the Associated Press reports start rolling in:

Poughkeepsie, NY -- In an attempt to surprise his children, Daniel Straddling braved a Christmas Eve blizzard and, dressed in a Santa suit, endeavored to descend his own chimney. Straddling's wife called 911 when her husband did not appear in the fireplace. She reported hearing Straddling's muffled screams for help. After nine harrowing hours in sub-zero temperatures, members of the Poughkeepsie Fire Department were able to pull Straddling free...

Daniel Straddling is like a million other over-zealous holiday nuts -- a bit naive and usually aided with a little too much "adult" eggnog.

When brainstorming witty ideas about how to get a cheap laugh (or a spot on the evening news), please remember the following facts: Americans are the biggest people on earth. Your chimney isn't a train tunnel; if birds and mice can die in there, it doesn't bode well for you. Firemen have families, too; don't make them spend all night shivering on your roof. -- Cara Gardner

5. Think You Can Please a Teen -- Parents, prepare yourselves: The days of the kids begging to stay up to see Santa are dwindling. Soon there will be less of a glimmer in the big brown eyes of your children as they see the newly decorated Christmas tree.

It's not anything you could prevent. This change of heart was inevitable from the start. Now it's time to face the cold, hard truth: Your button-nosed, dimple-faced little kids are teenagers now. Ashton Kutcher and Christina Aguilera are their parents now, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Having a teenager opens up a whole new can of problems when it comes to buying them Christmas presents. Little will make them happy. Those who do act happy are just masking their plans for finding receipts and returning the gifts for cash. Your daughter doesn't want the clothes that you like; she especially hates "practical gifts" like books or school supplies. What she wants is makeup and a boyfriend. And you're not going to get her makeup or a boyfriend. You could, but then you'll just surrender any parental power you ever had in order to make her like you for a day. Teenage sons want cars -- but not the sensible 1987 Volvo that you had picked out. Nope, he wants a Hummer, but he'll compromise for a zippy little sports car. Ah, the days when matchbox cars were good enough.

Sure, it's hazy now. But you'll have your children back in no more than seven years. So, stick with gift certificates for a few years. They'll be shocked when you actually start buying them real gifts - when they're in their 20s. -- Leah Sottile

6. Wear Christmas Sweaters -- Actually, this pretty much goes for any holiday-themed item of clothing. I don't want to be cruel, but huge sweaters emblazoned with candy canes, Santa faces, comical Thanksgiving turkeys, gold lam & eacute; packages and fully decorated Christmas trees rarely put me in a festive frame of mind. Ditto for similarly emblazoned socks, turtlenecks, neckties, sweatshirts and, God forbid, boxer shorts.

Think I'm alone in this? Think again. Early in the movie Bridget Jones's Diary, Renee Zellweger, dressed in a ghastly Christmas-hued outfit of her mother's choosing, sees Colin Firth from across the room and thinks that maybe this once, she might actually meet Mr. Right at a holiday family function. But suddenly he turns, she realizes he's wearing the ugliest reindeer knit sweater this side of a craft fair, and immediately writes him off her "eligible bloke" list. At the same time, he's mentally dismissing her because she "dresses like her mother."

I don't know what it is, but the combination of red and green, not to mention the aggressive goodwill of a torso covered in smiling snowmen, age a person faster than a steady diet of Marlboros and scotch. Folks, if you want any kind of mistletoe action this Christmas, don't do it. Don't wear such things, and in the name of Kris Kringle, don't give them as gifts. -- Sheri Boggs

7. Get Involved in a Christmas Card War -- Honey, didn't the Fergusons send us a card this year? You know, the one with that shows all four of their smiling faces (tanned, blond, vacant) in whatever exotic locale they selected for their summer vacation, the name-brand collars of their coats turned up just so, the new Mercedes poking its grille into the picture.

They didn't send us one? God forbid they've wiped us off their Yuletide Alpha List. Don't you realize that our children's sense of self-worth -- and that of our children's children -- depends upon being included in the Fergusons' Circle of Card-Worthy Acquaintances?

Well, we'll just show them. We won't send them a card, either -- not this year, not next....

Stop the tape. This is a childish attitude, people. Not very Christmas-y, not very nice. When confronted with Christmas Card Termination, getting all huffy at the offenders isn't the proper response.

Getting back at them, however, is. That's why we recommend sending the Fergusons and all their cronies the Card of Brutal Truth. The strategy here is to lay bare the awful details of your life -- your job, your spouse, those little brats posing as your children. Include a photo with you hoisting a mai tai at the camera, head listing to one side, behind you an eruption of dirty laundry flowing out from the hellmouth of your double-wide's biggest closet.

That ought to guilt them into Yuletide correspondence mode again.

If not, wipe those suckers off your list forever. Hire a private investigator and get him to detail the brutal truth about the Fergusons' lives. And then send that merry little missive to everybody you can think of, whether or not they're already on your Christmas card list.

Season's greetings! -- Michael Bowen

8. Re-gift to the original Gift-giver -- The art of re-gifting has been in effect, I'm sure, since human beings began the custom of gifting. But in 1995, Seinfeld had an entire episode devoted to the practice. It took a while to catch on, but eventually Elaine's rants about re-gifting took hold of the American public giving rise to the argument "to re-gift or not to re-gift?"

When it comes to re-gifting, I'm all for it. The benefits are unarguably numerous. The obvious boon, of course, is ditching that unwanted gift, that ugly Santa sweater your grandma gave you, the kind of sweater that grandmas love but granddaughters hate. But there is more -- much more. Re-gifting saves you time, money, energy, thought and gas. It frees up storage space, relieves a guilty conscience -- remember that mini food processor you never use - and, to top it off, you're recycling!

I checked the Emily Post Institute of Etiquette Web site, and even they say that re-gifting is OK, provided the gift is new, still in the box, unused, discreet, not uniquely made just for you and not too obvious. All tags from previous giftors must be removed, and the gift certainly must not be a cast-off. But as far as I'm concerned -- and in terms of re-gifting, when is it not a cast-off? -- the only real rule is that you should never, ever re-gift an item to the person who gifted you in the first place. In fact, you should go out of your way to trace the lines from your giftee to the original giftor to make sure there is no way -- not through cousins, then friends, then sisters -- that this gift could make its way back to the person who originally bought you the gift. The holidays are not a time for petty fights or for throwing presents in others' faces or for calling a loved one a stingy bastard. No, certainly not. -- Amy Sinisterra

9. Buy Christmas-Themed Gifts -- I know all the Christmas decorations are 75 percent off right before Christmas, including the cute little stuffed squirrels, the cinnamon flavored candles, the giant tins of cheese-flavored popcorn and those Danish butter cookies. Even if you "forgot" to get that nice silk teddy from Victoria's Secret for your girlfriend, or if they ran out of her favorite chocolates at Huckleberry's -- no matter how desperate you get -- please, please, don't get her anything Christmas-y for Christmas, all right?

By Dec. 25, we've spent six weeks surrounded by Rudolph and his entire family, Santa and all his little helpers, and more fake garlands than it would take to wrap the Maple Street Bridge -- and you're thinking of invading somebody's life with more Christmas decorations? NO!

Take a hint from the carols: The Twelve Days of Christmas is referring to the time before Christmas -- not after. Christmas is over on the 26th. We're done. We're packing stuff away, not putting it up. There's absolutely no point in giving away something that's going to sit on the mantel for two days max, then spend the next 335 days in a moldy cardboard box in the garage. Not even if that something is really cute -- and 75 percent off. -- Pia K. Hansen

10. Say Too Much -- (Part II of "Do Drink," No. 10 from the "DOs List.") My friend Tracey's sister had come to visit her in college not long after Tracey came out as a lesbian. Five minutes after arriving and hearing the news, Tracey's sister was saying, "That is so cool!" and everything was fine.

Unfortunately, Tracey hadn't counted on her sister's enthusiasm lasting throughout the entire fall and into Thanksgiving vacation. But as soon as Tracey got home (with me in tow as her holiday guest), she realized that her sister's excitement hadn't cooled down. If anything, Tracey's sister was experiencing her own burst of "girl power."

This would have been fine if Tracey's family been one of those liberal East Coast conglomerations of artists, scholars and social workers. As it was, her father had run a bank his entire life, and her mother had a smile that resembled a sushi knife. I never saw Tracey's grandfather in anything other than a suit all weekend, and her grandmother asked me what I wanted for breakfast each morning, and then made it.

Tracey had not come out to these people, and I suspected she had no immediate plans to. Right after we arrived, I dove into the well-stocked bar, and set to work clouding my mind enough to get through the weekend (as discussed in "Do Drink"). It turns out that cranberries make a great garnish for Cosmopolitans.

But Tracey's sister, after two days of not talking about the subject that she wanted to talk about more than anything else, decided to drop a not-so-subtle hint at the dinner table on Saturday night. "Do you have a girlfriend yet?" she asked Tracey, with a tone that sounded like someone pulling the pin on a grenade.

What happened next is hard to remember clearly. I recall worrying that some complicated network of cables under the skin of Tracey's mother's face looked like it was about to snap. Tracey's grandmother left the table. And her father, ever the businessman, turned to me and asked, "What do you know about this?"

Within minutes, everyone was bickering. Family secrets and long-suppressed liberalism clashed with good old-fashioned WASP-y values. No topic remained sacred, and before long, sexuality, drug-use, political dissent and extramarital activity became the topics of conversation.

I couldn't believe what was happening. What were these people doing? Why weren't they following the time-honored American holiday traditions of alcoholism and repression?

Suddenly, I began to look forward to my upcoming Christmas visit home. Everything there, I realized, had for years been bathed in the soft-focus glow of denial. Our sullen silences, withering glances and ironic caroling suddenly seemed warm and fuzzy. Because we didn't talk about important things, the tree shimmered just a little brighter, and everyone looked a little more sincere. I realized, stuck in Connecticut, that no matter what you know about your own family, you must never forget that keeping a secret is usually more important than the secret itself. So trust me on this: Sometimes you should just shut up and enjoy the holiday. -- Marty Demarest

Publication date: 11/27/03

Grand Coulee Dam Laser Light Show @ Grand Coulee Dam Visitor Center

Through Sept. 30
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