It is some time now since Miss Manners noticed that New Year's Eve is a great deal more fun in theory than in practice.

Miss Manners has nothing against Dressing up, drinking champagne, dancing through the night and indulging in a modest amount of free-lance kissing-provided she doesn't have to do all this too often. Once a fortnight would be about right.

However, this kind of luxurious leisure is not what New Year's Eve is about any longer. New Year's Eve has become the national quintessential Saturday night, set aside as a social occasion with built-in disappointments for everyone. There is nothing like an officially designated time of glamor and excitement for producing mass discontent and depression.

This effect is best achieved by not having been asked to celebrate New Year's Eve with someone else, although you can also manage it if you have a data but no party to go to, or a party but no data to go with, or the wrong date, or the right data in the wrong mood.

Even if you have a full set of invitations, you can still spoil the occasion by watching the people at your party depart for better parties from which you were excluded. And New Year's Eve Parties, being long and not carefully orchestrated-as say, a dinner is-offer many opportunities for behav- ing badly, in ways one suddenly remembers with a sickening flash at breakfast the next afternoon. If you can't manage this yourself, you can always observe a loved one behaving badly; used skillfully, this can mark a turning point in the relationship-downwards, of course.

Miss Manner's suggestion for coping with this mess is that everyone calm down tonight and build a New Year's Eve suited to the actual purpose of the holiday.

The reason we divide time into years is to give everyone a fresh start, not to mention a clean calender. New Year's Eve, therefore, has two purposes: to practice the better, more graceful living one has promised oneself, and to pack in a last bit of wickedness before reforming forever.

One celebrates in a way that is slightly more expensive, more fattening or more naughty than one can ordinarily afford. None of these require the sort of franticness that ends in accidents, automobile or marital, and various numbers can play.

MISS MANNERS RESPONDS

Q: How much attention does a man have to pay to his wife at a party? Mine always gets upset if I leave her to talk to others, but if I spend the whole evening talking to her, or even just hanging around here, we might just as well stay home.Does she have a right to feel hurt if I expect here to fend for herself while I do the same?

A: It is graceful for a man to make a few conspicuous gestures of solicitation for his wife upon arrival at party, such as helping her off with her coat and seeing to it that she gets a drink. This gives others the idea that he values her and will encourage them to try to find out why, thus freeing him to talk to someone more interesting.

Q: Bright red lipstick is coming back into fashion. I am considering wearing it sometimes, just for fun, although I've never worn anything but lip gloss on my mouth before. How do you keep it from getting it all over napkins, forks and such? Doesn't it make a mess?

Q: Why do you think it went out of fashion in the first place? If you think the forks look messy, you should have seen the freshly kissed gentlemen in those days.

Q: Is it considered correct to display wedding gifts on a table at the wedding reception?

A: Yes, but it is revolting.

Q: Who blows out the candles after a dinner party, and when? Does the hostess do it, and if so, does she do it after the guests have left the dining room, or while they are getting up from dinner?

A: Miss Manners is amazed to hear of a household that is not equipped with a candle snuffer and must depend on the wind-power of the hostess. Ordinarily the candles are put out after the guests have left the dining room. However, Miss Manners has found that many guests refuse to budge after a good meals, and an effective way to speed them along is to extinguish one candle on the table, with the implied threat of leaving them in the dark. Besides, Miss Manners has a pretty candle snuffer and likes to show it off.

Q: I used to believe, as you do, that hotels are less concerned these days about marital status. But my mind was changed after an experience at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. My boyfriend and I thought New York would be liberal enough to accept us as we were, so we registered separately. The desk clerk told us quite indignantly that the Algonquin "is a family hotel" and if we wanted to stay, we would have to take separate rooms. Later, we found that in New York it is illegal for hotels to rent rooms to unmarried couples. Something to do with prostitution, I think. By the time we learned this, it was to late to point out to the clerk that my beau and I would hardly have driven to New York just for immoral purposes.

A: The Algonquin Hotel should be ashamed of itself: What would the literary history of this country be if the Algonquin Hotel had succeeded in barring from its doors all people who engage in pre-, extra-or other non-marital practices? In fact, all of New York should be ashamed of itself if it pretends that it is combatting prostitution by expecting people to rent extra rooms they don't plan to use.

Q: Why can't bread be buttered all at once instead of the time-consuming method of breaking off small pieces, buttering each one, and then eating if before breaking off another piece?

A: It is not for nothing that bread has earned itself the title of Staff of Life, as anyone will verify who has failed to catch a waiter's eye in a restaurant. Good bread deserves respect, and must be eaten in the traditional fashion out of reverence. Poorly-made bread is only consumed as a pastime by people whose meals are inadequate or late, and therefore should be eaten in as complicated a manner as possible to fill the time. Children who make little balls out of bread have the right motivation, although the wrong method.

Q: A question of etiquette which has been bothering me for many years is "What is the proper response to "I'm sorry, I have the wrong number'?"

A: Miss manners feels that "That's quite all right" is sufficient, although she realizes that there will always be those who say, "That's all right-I had to get up to answer the phone anyway."

Q: My son learned in school to sign all his letters-even the ones the class wrote to the president-with "Your friend." I think it sounds insincere when he writes it to anyone but a real friend, and as a matter of fact, he and his friends, don't write to each other, anyway. What should I suggest to him that would be more relastic?

A: If conventional letter endings were expected to be sincere, we would not be able to use such a convenient form as "Yours sincerely"-let alone "Yours very truly"-and would all have to sign our business correspondence with "Cautiously yours."

Q: What is the proper way to announce a divorce?

A: That is an improper question, and Miss Manners is so glad you asked it. If you only knew how much time Miss Manners has to spend nagging people to do the things they already know should be done, such as writing thank-you letters and chewing with their mouths shut, you would keep getting into complicated new situations to which Miss Manners can invent solutions, thus preveting her mind from going all to fluff.

Miss Manners understands why you want to announce your divorce. If you, in turn, can understand why it is that previous etiquette authorities have always considered this an improper thing to do, we can find a way to get around the difficulties.

The emotions which prompt you to make such an announcement could range from relief to tickled pink. You are forbidden to do so because it is wrong to crow over the misfortunes of others. (You may presume that it is a misfortune for someone, through divorce, to lose you, although that person may not seem to have noticed this.) And you should know that one never speaks ill of one's former spouse, one reason being that even the most apparently sympathetic listeners will conclude that you are bitter; if you say only kind things, they will conclude that the divorce was your idea.

But if you don't get the word out that you are newly divorced, it will be that much harder to reap the benefits of divorce, including the opportunity to get yourself into a position that will enable you to get divorced again.

Therefore, you may announce your divorce, but only if you disguise the announcement in order to make it appear to be an announcement of something else. For a woman, for example, it might be an announcement of her change of name. For a man or woman, it could be an announcement of a change of address. these may be made briefly and unpretentiously, in the form that a lawyer might use for announcing that he has joined a different firm. Do not trouble yourself worrying that people will fail to speculate as to why you have changed your name or address.

Q: Which direction should one travel when filling a plate from a buffer table-clockwise or counterclock-wise? And at what point of the table do you start? Six o'clock?

A: Six is a little early. It is wise to start where the plates are, and to quit when you hear the people in line ahead of you saying, "That looks like that mousse again." You will find that the usual pattern requires you to go clockwise, although large buffer tables are set out in a mirror image fashion, so that one may pick either side and march in the direction on one's choice, still coming out with the same results as those who chose a dirrerent path.

If one is really hungry, one may nibble discreetly as one goes along, thus clearing the plate at the same time one is refilling it, which may be kept up indefinitely or until the hosts wise up. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption