CHRISTMAS is an important day for everyone to practice hypocrisy.

Does that offend you? Miss Manners is so excessively polite that she rarely has the wicked pleasure of offending people, and you must allow her to relish the sensation for a moment before she explains what she means and spoils the effect.

There now. Miss Manners feels quite herself again and is prepared to discuss Christmas behavior with appropriate sobriety.

What she means is that Christmas is an excellent time for people to forgo the honest expression of their true feelings and adjust - not to say dissemble - their behaviour in order to cater to the feelings of other.

Take the difficult matter of mid-afternoon on Christmas Day. Everyone always feels cross then. This is perfectly understandable. They have been up too early. They have had little rest the night before, either because they had visions of sugar plums, dancing in their heads, or because they were trying to put together a vision for someone else, which had some of the parts or the directions missing and should have been put together by the store, which refused to do so.

Some place are cross because they did not get waht they wanted, and are now tired of it or are feeling postpartum depression. Some people are stiff from sitting in church, and others stiff from sitting on the floors with the electric train, and some are both.

Those who have Christmas dinner at night are cross because they are starved, and those who have it at mid-day are cross because they are overstuffed, and all of them are beginning to wish they had not eaten the candy canes off the tree.

Christmas hypocrisy requires that everyone conceal this feeling and behave kindly and patiently to others.

It is especially important on Christmas that children be reinforced in their hypocritical behavior.

Children must be taught to express surprise when they open presents, concealing their actual assessment of the acquisitions if this is inconsistant with the official emotions. They must be instructed to refrain from making such true statements as "I already have one." And they must be taught the unnatural act of reading the card before opening the package.

They must also be forced into another unnatural act, that of sitting down and writing letters of thanks immediately-letters that express enthusiasm and gratitude with the best artifice they can muster in order to make the emotion sound genuine. (This is, incidentally, an excellent mid-afternoon activity for calming down over-excited children. Their little eyelids will be drooping in boredom in no time, and there will be a merciful moment of quiet in the house.)

But even adults accustomed to faking verbal and written joy often need practice in Christmas hypocrisy. It is not easy to sound convincing when one is expressing a wish to "help." Everyone at a Christmas gathering should be false shining with the apparent desire to set the table, pick up the torn wrappings, go for a walk in the snow as far as the garbage can, and fix the children's malfunctioning toys.

If you do not like the term hypocrisy, Miss Manners will permit you to call it "doing unto others."

MISS MANNERS RESPONDS

q: What is your opinion of women who nurse their in public?

a: Miss Manners is fully aware of what will follow this question, or rather what will follow her answer. Lactation apparently stimulates the flow of ink in the pen, and nursing mothers emit great cries about the naturalnee and beauty of this function and therefore its appropriateness under any circumstances. These cries tend to be louder that the original cries of the babies.

Nevertheless, Miss Manners is against the public mursing of babies (or anyone else). There seems to be a basic confusion here between what is natural and/or beautiful, and what is appropriate in public. The two often have very little to do with each other. When people carry on about their right to perform perfectly natural functions in public, Miss Manners suspecs them of wanting to add interest to functions normally of interest only to the participants, by performing them in unnatural settings.

q: Which term is correct, "pantystockings" or "pantyhose"?

a: It depends on whether you are buying or selling. "hose" is a trade term, acceptable for those commercially involved with the item, for those who are not, the word is "stockings." However, once you have added the word "panty"-and Miss Manners is not questioning the necessity for doing so, as it descibes a different garment-it seems futile to attempt to make the rest of the word genteel.

q: Is it ture that "pardon me" is the wrong thing to say-that you have to say "excuse me" instead? Obviously, they both mean the same thing, and take the same time to say. What's the difference?

a: A pardon is more difficult to obtain that an excuse. If you don't believe Miss Manners about that, ask some of the prominent and supposedly influential people who have failed or even managed to obtain pardons. For ordinary transgressions, it is easier to ask for an excuse.

q: I have several friends who are gourment cooks, and I enjoy eating at their homes. But I never know what to do when the host goes into the kitchen. Should I follow him to be sociable? Or stay in the living room doing-what? One friend of mine got really irritated, it seemed to me, when I went into his kitchen to continue our conversating; another friend just kept shouting at me while she was in the kitchen and I was in the front room, until I felt I should go in there so she could converse without going hoarse. What would you do?

a: Ask. By all means, you may ask Miss Manners, since Miss Manners knows everything, but you might also ask the individual cook if you should go into the kitchen or not. Some people enjoy entertaining in their kitchens, while others prefer that their guests not observe them sticking their fingers into the food, licking stirring spoons and other such maneuvers that good cooks perform.

q: I have been a widow for almost eight years now. Some say you use your given name when you become a widow; others tell me you use your husband's name. WHICH IS RIGHT? I HAVE BEEN TOLD YOU DO NOT WEAR YOU DIAMOND OR WEDDING BAND AFTER THE DEATH OF YOUR HUSBAND. SOMEHOW I STILL DON'T FEEL RIGHT WHEN I DON'T WEAR IT. IF I WERE TO START GOING OUT WITH ANOTHER MAN, THEN I WOULDN'T WEAR IT, BUT I STILL FEEL THE DAY WILL COME WHEN I SHALL BE RESTIN ALONGSIDE OF HIM IN OUR GRAVES. I HAVE WORN THE RING ON MY RIGHT HAND WHEN MY FINGER ISN'T SWOLLEN AND I CAN GET IT ON. I DON'T FEEL RIGHT WHEN I DO WEAR IT ON MY RIGHT HAND, THOUGH.

A: IT IS ONE OF THE MISSIONS OF MISS MANNERS TO PUT A STOP TO THAT SPORT, POPULAR AMONG THE FRIENDS OF WINDOWS, OF SUGGESTING WAYS IN WHICH A WIDOW CAN FEEL HER LOSS MORE ACUTELY IN HER EVERYDAY LIFE. THIS ACTIVITY IS NOT ONLY DEPLORABLE MORALLY, BUT INCORRECT. A WOMAN'S MARRIED NAME DOES NOT CHANGE WHEN HER HUSBAND DIES, NOR IS THERE ANY REASON SHE CANNOT WEAR HER WEDDING AND ENGAGEMENT RINGS AS BEFORE. A POX ON NASTY PEOPLE WHO SAY OTHERWISE.

Q: WHO SAYS THERE IS A "RIGHT" WAY OF DOING THINGS AND A "WRONG"?

A: MISS MANNERS DOES. YOU WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING OF IT?

Q: WHAT IS THE PROPER WAY TO EAT POTATO CHIPS?

A: WITH A KNIFE AND FORK. A FRUIT KNIFE AND AN OYSTER FORK, TO BE SPECIFIC. FOR PITY'S SAKE, WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO? MISS MANNERS DOESN'T MIND EXPLAINING THE FINER POINTS OF GRACIOUS LIVING, BUT FEELS THAT ANYONE WHO DOESN'T HAVE THE SENSE TO PICK UP A POTATO CHIP AND STUFF IT INTO HIS MOUTH PROBABLY SHOULD NOT BE RUNNING AROUND LOOSE ON THE STREETS.

Q: HOW DO YOU PAY FOR A TELEPHONE CALL IN SOMEONE ELSE'S HOUSE? IT SEEMS SUCH A TRIVIAL MATTER THAT I FEEL LIKE SKIPPING IT AND ASSUMING THAT MY HOST WILL MAKE A CALL IN MY HOUSE SOMEDAY TO EVEN THINGS UP, BUT I'VE HAD PEOPLE OFFER ME CHANGE. I FEEL STUPID TAKING A DIME FROM A GUEST. ON THE OTHER HAND, I DON'T WANT ANYONE DIRECT-DIALING TOKYO ON MY BILL, EITHER.

A: MISS MANNERS FEELS YOU HAVE TWO QUESTIONS HERE, AND WOULD LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT LOCAL AND LONG DISTANCE TELEPHONE CALLS ARE MILES APART.

FOR LOCAL CALLS, MISS MANNERS FEELS IT IS ENOUGH TO SAY, "MAY I USE YOUR TELEPHONE?" WITHOUT PAYING FOR THE SERVICE; THERE ARE ALSO PAY TOILETS IN PULIC, BUT NOT IN PEOPLE'S HOUSES. SHE IS ASSUMING, OF COURSE, THAT YOU ARE USING IT RARELY (THE TELEPHONE, NOT THE TOILET, WHICH IS PROPERLY USED ACCORDING TO NEED) AND NOT SETTLING IN TO MAKE YOUR BUSINESS CALLS.

FOR LONG DISTANCE CALLS, IT IS A SIMPLE MATTER TO ASK THE TELEPHONE COMPANY TO CHARGE IT TO YOUR HOME NUMBER. MISS MANNERS SUGGESTS DOING THIS IN A LOUD VOICE, SO THAT THE HOST OVERHEARS IT AND DOES NOT HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT YOU FROM THE TIME YOU ANNOUNCED YOU WERE CALLING THE FOLKS IN THE OLD COUNTRY TO THE TIME THAT HIS MONTHLY BILL ARRIVES.

Q: I AM CONFUSED BY CHANGING FASHIONS. I REMEMBER WHEN IT WAS CONSIDERED DREADFUL TO WEAR PANTS-SOME RESTAURANTS WOULDN'T EVEN ADMIT YOU-AND THEN IT BECAME ALL RIGHT. BUT NOW IT SEEMS TO BE GOING BACK AGAIN, OF AM I WRONG? MY QUESTION IS: IS IT STILL CONSIDERED PROPER TO WEAR PANTS TO A LUNCHEON?

A: FOR GENTLEMEN, ALWAYS. FOR A LADY, LOCAL CUSTOM VARIES. MISS MANNERS GOT SICK OF THE FIGHT OVER PANTS LONG AGO-IT WAS RAGING ON A LEVEL WITH FIGHTS OVER LENGTHS OF HAIR FOR MEN, WHICH IS A POOR EXCUSE FOR A GOOD FIGHT. MISS MANNERS ALSO HAS A PRETTY GOOD IDEA THAT MOST PEOPLE ARE WELL AWARE OF HOW THEY CAN DRESS TO SHOCK OR TO CONFORM; WHICH THEY WISH TO DO IS UP TO THEM. IF YOU ARE TRULY ANXIOUS TO BE SAFE IN THIS CASE, MISS MANNERS ASSURES YOU THAT NO ONE WILL THINK A SKIRT IMPROPER.

Q: DO YOU LIKE TO SURPRISE PARTIES?

A: AS A GUEST, CERTAINLY. THEY ARE AN EXCELLENT WAY OF CATCHING A FRIEND WHEN HE OR SHE IS EMOTIONALLY AND OFTEN PHYSICALLY UNPREPARED TO ATTEND A PARTY, AND THUS EMBARRASS SOMEONE UNDER SUCH A GUISE OF FRIENDSHIP THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THAT PERSON TO EXPRESS OUTRAGE WITHOUT SOUNDING CHURLISH. AS A GUEST OF HONOR, MISS MANNERS LOATHES SURPRISE PARTIES, FOR THE IDENTICAL REASONS.