DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am hoping that you can help me deal with a problem that has plagued me since I was a little girl. At that age, the problem was how to deal with the question, "What did you get for Christmas?"-- a question that, apart from its nosing into something personal, contained the false assumption that I celebrated Christmas.
As a child, I alternated between pretending that I celebrated Christmas and informing the other party that I celebrated Hanukkah, a response that would elicit odd looks or unwanted religious conversations.
Now, as an adult, I am plagued by a different set of problems. Thankfully, people no longer ask me what I "got." Instead, I get remarks (from acquaintances, neighbors, store clerks, etc.) such as, "What are you doing for Christmas?", "Are you ready for Christmas yet?", wishes of "Merry Christmas" or the euphemistic "Happy Holidays."
Since I no longer practice the religion that I was raised with, the Hanukkah response is no longer open to me. Thus, I am left with the choice of letting the speaker think I am Christian or risk getting involved in an even more prolonged and unwanted religious conversation.
I tried the former strategy in a discussion with my dental hygienist. Unfortunately, the initial question of what I was doing for Christmas led to further questions, such as whether I was buying a tree, what was I buying for my spouse, etc., leaving me increasingly uncomfortable.
There is the option of simply saying, without explanation, "I do not celebrate Christmas." However, I am certain that I would (as when I was a child) experience either odd looks or unwanted religious questions. I could repeat myself, but I do not know how to do that without appearing rude.
I try to keep in mind that all of these comments are well-meant or simply a way of making conversation. The larger picture that is really bothering me, Miss Manners, is that I live in a society where everyone is assumed to be Christian, or, if not Christian, then religious, or even if not religious, then certainly celebrating some "holiday" this time of year. I know I can't change that society on my own -- that I can't disabuse people of their false assumptions -- and Miss Manners dictates that I not try.
However, if no one does say anything, people will continue in their false assumptions. I cannot be the only one who is made uncomfortable by this. It seems the only solution is to hide for two months out of every year. Please let me know if there is another.
GENTLE READER: You are mistaken that Miss Manners objects to attempts to change society. Why does she do but attempt to make society more polite?
However, she does rule out responding to a light pleasantry with a heavy lecture. So do you, by saying that you do not want to discuss religion in these encounters. And you needn't. You need only reply as you would about any other day off - "Oh, the usual" or "We'll be staying home" or "Trying to get everything done" before asking, "What are you doing?"
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am on the Recycling Committee of our small New England town, which is charged with educating our fellow citizens about recycling opportunities. While depositing my very small bag of trash in the "hopper," I noticed the citizen next to me throwing away bales of cardboard boxes and newspaper instead of recycling them in the clearly marked containers nearby. I wanted to correct him, but didn't know the best way to approach him.
GENTLE READER: As if you are not correcting, only helping. This means refraining from shouting, "Not in there!" and only saying, "Excuse me, but that's the recycling bin, not this one" in a tone you would not resent if you made a mistake.