People do strange things this time of year. Who do you suppose all those people are who snap up the ermine-tailed letter openers in the Christmas catalogs?

Why, they're the same careful shoppers who cruise the drugstores the rest of the year, doing comparison pricing before committing themselves to investing in a tooth powder brand. And those types who whisper odd suggestions at holiday parties - aren't they the same people who are always arguing against the decriminalization of childish behavior in children all year long? Where is their better judgement?

Arthur T.E. Burryman's Better Judgement is off on a two-week, land-sea, pina-colada-self-awareness cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2. Two days out, while doing the exercises for his Dynamics of Relaxation seminar before the second sitting, it said; "I realize now that Art and I have never really established honest communications, I would say 'Stop that,' and he'd knock it off.Is that what you'd call a relationship? We both need time apart, to think things out."

Meanwhile, Arthur, who celebrated his 20th anniversary with Rural Electrification earlier this year, was overseeing the arrangements for an office party at which he had arranged to have several marginally successful hybrids from Beltsville play the heads of different services in his department. He denied needing to think things out.

Daniela Porax, who threw everything modern out of her office at the Hirshhorn to put in her own style (Louis XII) at her own expense, was out Christmas shopping for her friends and relations when she decided to indulge in a gift for herself. It struck her that it would be original and amusing, as well as handy, to own a pair of earrings of which one was a actually a mini-computer and the other a felt-tipped pen and telephone dialer. Where was her taste?

Her Taste had won a magazine sweepstakes prize of a week in Disney World. "I must have been out of my mind before," it said. "This is it - the true expression of the people's esthetic. I'm never going back."

Conrad Walpole's Conscience had been his guide for his entire career in public information at the State Department and, as a reward, he had sent it off on the Recreation Association's guided tour of Trouble Spots of the World. No sooner had it gone than Walpole accepted Christmas gifts from 37 diplomats - 35 bottles, a tin of caviar and a gold watch with diamond numerals - telling himself that the givers were people who all liked him personally.

His Conscience was finally tracked down in Gstaad, living in a manner that was neither part of the tour nor of any lifestyle it could afford on its salary. "No comment," it said when pressed for an explanation. "I'm on vacation."