I GUESS an apology is in order, but I'm not sure whom I should apologize to. I keep reading dire predictions: how we're heading toward the ''R-word,'' as some economists coyly say, how holiday sales are slower than last year's. I even read that economists measure the nation's gift spending by the amount of wrapping paper that's sold!
All right, all right, I confess. This year I'm not just giving gifts that can be wrapped or measured by holiday sales. This year a large portion of my gifts to close friends will be charitable donations in their names.
Charitable donations are not glamorous, I know, and they aren't heavily marketed in full-page ads or on prime time. They don't have pre-Thanksgiving or ''spectacular one-day-only'' sales. They're not beautifully packaged in a season where packages, after all, take on symbolic significance.
But charitable donations as gifts make sense. They make sense when so many presents we give or receive, let's face it, really don't make sense. Are there actually people so fortunate they've never had to feign delight at a gift that was all wrong? Well, there's no such thing as a charitable donation that's the wrong size, or wrong color, or wrong model.
Charitable donations bring the kind of joy that few other gifts can bring, especially when they reflect the hopes and interests of the receiver. They allow us to be thankful for our own good fortunes and to be mindful of the fragility of life. They help us teach our children about what giving can really mean. They cause us to be reflective, anchor us, however momentarily, until the inevitable hubbub of life grips us again.
Oh, I'm not entirely giving up on giving. The children will still get their presents and adult friends will get a nice acknowledgement card attached to a small present -- something good to eat or drink and share.
I'm still spending the same amount of money as I always did during the holidays, but this year I feel better about it. Frankly I hope that other people I know will consider donating to good causes as holiday presents. Perhaps in our own small way we can be a sort of mini-movement and join others who have already discovered this gratifying practice.
Now, here's where the apology comes in. I apologize to economists for my tiny impact on their numbers, to department stores where I often spent money foolishly in against-the-clock frenzies, and to wrapping-paper manufacturers who, as more people give charitable donations as gifts, will have to report smaller numbers to market analysts.
Maybe that ''R-word'' will eventually stand for ''relief,'' or ''respect,'' or ''rewarding,'' or, best of all, a simple ''right.''
*Mr. Bavaria writes from Towson.