It may constitute one of life's most dangerous liaisons: This year's unfortunate coupling of the holiday season with the recession.
(And, yes, Virginia, no matter what Dan Quayle says, there is a recession.)
At best, this unappealing combination of too few dollars chasing too many names on your gift list offers you a chance to be creative in your gift giving.
At worst, it makes you consider gathering your loved ones together to listen to a totally self-serving and hypocritical speech that goes something like this:
"After much soul searching, I have decided to follow the dictates of my conscience and not buy into the commercial circus that the holidays have become. Therefore I plan to give no gifts. Nor do I wish to receive any. Now go in peace and may the Force be with you."
(Feel free, by the way, to use this last bit in any way you see fit as I have decided not to copyright it. Consider it my gift to you. And by the way again, should you decide to use my uncopyrighted gift, please do not feel obligated to gift me in return. However, should you choose to ignore my wishes, all gifts may be sent in care of this newspaper.)
But let's say neither of these gambits -- creative gift giving or a phony renunciation of the holidays -- works for you.
In that case, it's time to stop fooling around and go straight to a sure fire winner: the Dickensian Gambit.
Or, as some sophisticates prefer to call it: the Ghost of Christmas Presents Past.
Based on the mathematical certainty that all of us have -- lurking somewhere in our closets and basements -- gifts given to us in the past that have never been taken out of the box, the Ghost of Christmas Presents Past (GCPP) can be recycled with equal success by any person, regardless of sex, race or religion.
Which means it is not only practical but also politically correct.
Environmentally sound, too, if you factor in the number of boxes and Styrofoam packing material saved by recycling old gifts.
To demonstrate how GCPP actually works, please follow me as I take an inventory of the available GCPP in my own house.
First, we shall canvass the interiors of my kitchen cabinets.
Direct your gaze, if you will, to the far corner of the cabinet above my sink, the one that contains several as-yet-unboxed, small appliances.
See for yourself the duplicate boxes containing identical cast-iron Swedish pancake-makers. Gaze upon the large box containing a machine for making homemade pasta. It's the one right next to the ice cream maker. Which is next to the vegetable juicer and behind the bagel holder.
Moving right along we go next to the closet near the refrigerator -- the one that houses a complete collection of every hand-held, cordless vacuum cleaner ever manufactured.
And, oh yes, in case you're wondering why this closet smells so good, may I point out the two racks which contain duplicate sets of the 100 most popular spices. Given to me, I might add, on consecutive Christmases by my two sons.
Without wishing to sound smug, may I point out I've already crossed off quite a few names from my gift list?
Leaving the kitchen, we move on to my bathroom closet. Or, as I have come to regard it, the House of Soap.
See the many, neatly stacked boxes of every scent of soap possible: Lavender, gardenia, apple, strawberry, rose, lily-of-the-valley, carnation, Chanel No. 5 through 10, etc., etc. And the shapes! Soap in the shape of cats, heart-shaped soap, Christmas-tree shaped soap, soap that spells out my name, soap shaped like little angels.
Excuse me for a moment while I cross off several more names from my gift list.
But I've saved the best for last: the treasure chest at the foot of my bed.
Like those bins at the dentist's office that hold a variety of cheap plastic toys for children who've been good little patients, the chest in my bedroom is a jumble of odd -- but suitable for gift-giving -- items.
Note, if you will, the self-help talking books ("How To Jump Start Your Personal Life"), video tapes ("Dance with Debbie Reynolds"), suitcase organizers, traveling cosmetics kits, clever key chains that I have never figured out how to open, shoe trees, earring trees, little lamps that clip onto a book, wind chimes and many, many silk scarves -- all just waiting to be rewrapped in festive, holiday paper.
So there you have it: Cheap, politically correct, environmentally sound, hassle-free gifts that do not require you show up at super-crowded malls to stand in long lines.
) God bless 'em, every one.