(EDITORS Please be advised: The last line of this column contains language that may be offensive to some readers.)
Here are some clues that you might be overdoing the holidays:
-- The neighbors' children are going to school bleary-eyed, because the lights on your house are keeping them awake.
-- There is so much to be done in connection with your office celebrations that it is one of the most hectic work times of the year, although the service your company ordinarily performs has been all but suspended.
-- Your special wardrobe contains so many Christmas sweaters and items of jewelry with trees, bells and wreaths that you have to keep track of which you have worn where.
-- Not remembering who some of the people on your card list are and how they got there does not discourage you from sending them greetings.
-- Strangers show up at your holiday parties and open conversations with you by asking whether you can point out the host.
-- You are sending presents to a generation of relatives whom you have not seen since babyhood, and from whom you have never received acknowledgment.
-- People to whom you bring little surprise treats don't look thrilled and exclaim in pleasure; they look cornered and exclaim, "Oh, I meant to get something for you."
-- After you offer people good wishes, you find yourself having to urge them to get into the spirit of the season.
-- Your children get cranky when there are no more presents for them to open, partly because it doesn't occur to them to go on to the next stage of playing with what they received, but mostly because they are just plain exhausted from the task.
-- You press food on people after they claim to be sated by telling them how much work you put into making it.
-- You quiz people about their ancestry for the purpose of celebrating their particular holidays, even ones they don't celebrate themselves.
-- You end up being annoyed at everyone you were trying to please.
Normally, Miss Manners is an enthusiastic supporter of the cheerful and the festive, with little patience for those who claim that they find merriment depressing. She believes that traditions bind people together and that it is divisive, if not cruel, to scorn family observances. Her admiration for those who plan their holidays for others' pleasure, and not just their own, is boundless.
But she worries about people who, bless their hearts, get so into the holiday spirit that they go around spreading fatigue and obligation and, ultimately, their own disappointment that others fail to keep up with them.
They would do well to remember that there can be too much of a good thing:
-- An hour of generalized fellowship in an office is a delightful break, but the additional workload or assessment to support serious celebrations is a burden that should not be imposed.
-- There is no pleasure in receiving cards or presents from people one can't place, and no point in sending presents into a void from which there is no response.
-- Unexpected treats and presents should be on so modest a scale as not to leave the recipient with a surprise social debt.
-- Giving is blessed, but force-feeding people presents or food beyond what they can handle is not.
-- Assuming that everyone celebrates Christmas may be insensitive, but so is assuming that everyone has a Christmas-equivalent and wants help sharing it.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A couple of years ago, my wife and I attended the wedding of two people who had been friends of ours for years. One year ago, the woman left the man for another man. We heard all about it from the man but heard nothing from the woman as we live in separate towns.
We received a little Christmas package from the woman who, in her note, made no reference to her infidelity -- an act that considerably affected all who were friends of the pair.
I felt instinctively the need to thank her for the gift and card, but I didn't feel as if I should ignore the issue of her leaving her husband. In the end, I wrote a thank-you note and told her what I thought of the situation -- not in excoriating terms but in bluntly honest ones. In your opinion, was this boorish?
GENTLE READER: Yes. Had you wished to register your disapproval you could have written her a dry letter of thanks; had you wished to register extreme disapproval, you could have returned the present. Miss Manners is afraid that "Thanks, slut," is not a proper communication.