Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Every year our family gathers at the home of "Aunt Dottie and Uncle Joe" for Christmas dinner. This includes us, our parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and their children. Aunt Dottie and Uncle Joe used to charge only the adults -- the children ate free -- and the adults also brought along bottles of alcohol. Now the charge is per person, so everyone pays.

Abby, we have no choice in the menu. Aunt Dottie and Uncle Joe plan the meal. If they serve something we don't like, or if we can't stay for the whole meal, don't you think we should get at least a partial refund? Shouldn't we have a say in the menu since we pay for our meals? They don't need the money, but they never offer a refund if we eat little or leave early.

I think a better plan would be for all of us to meet in a restaurant for Christmas dinner, so we'd have a choice. What do you think? -- FED UP IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR FED UP: It's unrealistic to expect your aunt and uncle to refund the money for the uneaten food, and having a "committee" create the menu might be more of a hassle for your aunt and uncle than they're willing to accept. Since all of you pay for your own dinner anyway, your suggestion is practical. Mention it to your relatives and see how they react. More than a few may "second" the motion.

DEAR ABBY: I had to laugh when I read the letter from "Uncorked in Hudson, Ohio." I had a similar experience.

Some out-of-town friends came to visit and, upon their arrival, presented us with a bottle of wine, too. Like "Uncorked," I had planned to serve a wine I had selected for dinner and did not open my guests' wine.

The next day, as our guests were leaving, the woman walked into my kitchen, grabbed her bottle of wine, and said that since we didn't drink it, she was taking it with her! I was speechless.

No matter how rude her gesture was, I realized I had hurt her feelings by not serving her wine, and since that experience I have always served the wine my guests bring -- no matter what else I have planned. I would much rather keep my friends than worry about the perfect dinner. -- UNCORKED 2, RICHLAND, WASH.

DEAR UNCORKED 2: That's one way of looking at it. Read on for another solution:

DEAR ABBY: In reference to "Uncorked in Hudson, Ohio": I agree that the host was not rude. I always play by the following rules when someone brings wine to the house. If it's wrapped, it is gift and meant to be saved or added to my "collection." If it is not wrapped, it is meant to be served for that meal. This simple rule seems to work well for me. -- CORKED IN ORINDA, CALIF.

DEAR CORKED: If it works for you, it has my blessing. But there is no formal rule of etiquette that dictates that a bottle of wine brought to an informal dinner party as a housegift must be served that evening. Once a gift is given, it belongs to the recipient to do with as he or she chooses.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600