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by Abigail Van Buren

Thoughtful Holiday Gifts Spread Cheer All Year

DEAR READERS: Well, it seems as though we just finished polishing off the Thanksgiving leftovers, and it's time to start shopping for holiday gifts again.

You may consider spending less on gifts this year and doing a little more for the poor and homeless.

However, old habits are hard to break, so if you insist on sending gifts, let me tell you what not to give Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Howard, who don't get around much anymore.

Forget the cologne, dusting powder and after-shave. They probably have several unopened boxes on their closet shelves -- that is, if they haven't already recycled them.

Grandpa doesn't need another necktie, and Grandma doesn't want any more earrings. With the price of groceries going through the roof, older people who live alone on fixed incomes would appreciate a basket of practical goodies. How about small tins of tuna, chicken and ham? Also, crackers, instant coffee, tea, soup mixes and cookies.

People who live in confined quarters do not need more "things," so don't send candy dishes or figurines. And don't send articles of clothing unless you're sure the size is right. Leisure (or "warm-up") suits are comfy and easy to launder. Older folks love them.

Some truly useful gifts: an assortment of postcards, some lined stationery with envelopes and a generous supply of postage stamps. And enclose some felt-tip pens.

Another suggestion: a variety of greeting cards for all occasions. They might want to send someone a nice birthday, anniversary, graduation or thank-you card. Don't forget get-well cards, condolence cards and "congratulations on the new baby" cards.

Should you be tempted to recycle a lovely but useless gift still in its original box, make sure the card to you is not still in the box.

Never give a pet to anyone unless you are absolutely certain that person wants a pet and is able to care for it properly. And if you want to make a hit with someone who has a pet, send a little holiday gift for it (a tin of dog or cat food and bird seed for "Tweetie Pie") along with a gift for its master.

Don't give wine or liquor to people unless you are sure they imbibe. A thoughtful idea: a gift subscription for a magazine or newspaper you know they will enjoy. Candy, nuts and fruitcake make beautiful gifts for people who aren't counting their calories, but have a little compassion for those who are, and lead them not into temptation. Also bear in mind that some older folks have difficulty chewing nuts and caramels.

Another good idea for those living alone on a fixed income: a gift certificate for some kind of service such as window washing, carpet cleaning, taxi rides, barber shop, beauty parlor or dinner or lunch at their favorite place. And (don't laugh) a gift certificate entitling them to a trip to the podiatrist. Because medication is no small item these days, a gift certificate from the neighborhood pharmacy would be very much appreciated. Trust me.

Holiday time can be depressing for people who are alone, so if you know someone who might be alone and lonely, give him (or her) the best gift of all -- an invitation to have a holiday meal with you and your family. Loneliness is the ultimate poverty. -- Love, ABBY

By popular request, Abby shares more of her favorite prize-winning, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

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