DEAR HARRIETTE: My good friend's birthday party is coming up. I am excited to go, because I haven't seen him and that group of friends in a long time because of my work schedule.
I told him I would be there before I knew the details of the party theme: S&M. Sexy, kinky, whips, all of the above.
I don't want to take part in dressing up, but on the invitation, it says everyone must have a costume. I don't want to not go. What should I do? -- No Kinks, Brooklyn, N.Y.
DEAR NO KINKS: I know you want to hang out with your friends, but I assure you that this is not the right setting. If you are not interested in S&M, you will probably feel awkward the entire time you are at the party.
Call your friend. Tell him that although you will not be able to make it to his party, you would like to treat him to dinner sometime soon for his birthday. If he asks why, tell him the truth: You just aren't into S&M.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Friends have invited me to their house for Hanukkah. This will be my first time visiting their house and my first time attending a Jewish celebration.
What is an appropriate holiday gift? I am not Jewish, and I don't want to make a mistake. I feel really honored to be included and don't want to do anything inappropriate. -- Hanukkah Novice, Nashville, Tenn.
DEAR HANUKKAH NOVICE: Relax. There's no need to feel ashamed that you don't know Jewish traditions. Your friends are not expecting you to be an expert. What's wonderful is that they have chosen to include you.
At the celebration, you likely will learn about the traditions of Hanukkah. Be open to the experience, and ask your friends questions when you are unsure.
Being proactive would be even better. By starting the discussion in advance, you can break the ice. Tell your friends that you are excited about attending but feel a little uneasy about what to expect. Ask for guidance. Also ask if there's anything special that you can bring or make for the celebration.
One other thing you can do is to read about the holiday ahead of time. Here's one comprehensive article to get you started: religionfacts.com/judaism/holidays/hanukkah.htm.
As far as an appropriate gift, think about what your friends like. Traditional hostess gifts such as candles, guest bath soaps or flowers are great. Wine is also a good gift, but you may want to bring kosher wine just in case.