"Lingerie? Fifth floor, near the elevator, Merry Christmas."

101 Strings' "Jingle-Bell Rock" in office-building elevators. Magazine covers at supermarket check-outs, promising "Your Best Christmas Ever." The Christmas rush. Christmas seals. "What are you doing for Christmas?" "Wishing you and yours . . ." Red and green. Making Christmas stockings in grade-school art class. This week's featured item: Eggnog, one for 69 cents, two for a dollar.

I used to feel awfully left out.

Back in second grade, the kids from the parochial school nearby and the ones who went to Hebrew School on Tuesday afternoons had long debates about the virtues of one holiday over another. The main issue was a careful consideration of which holiday -- Christmas or Hanukkah -- reaped more presents. Interestingly, the St. Joseph's gang thought it was Hanukkah and we were sure it was Christmas.

I'll rail against the idea of a Hanukkah bush, as a compromise Christmas tree, until my last December on earth. No more yearning for an annual three weeks of Christianity, as I did for the years before the second-grade debate.

But Christmas means something beyond the neon-lit reinder and, for me anyhow, something beyond its strictly religious origins. It's not a day, it's a season. Or maybe a mood, of both introspection and rowdiness, reflection and celebration.

Christmas has become the last the most lax letter-writer can cop a reprieve with a well-timed "Seasons Greeting" card. It's all in the Christmas spirit, of course.

The list that follows suggests some other ways to take advantage of the Christmas spirit. Sample them when your out-of-town company shows up, expecting to be entertained and jollied about. Enjoy the next few weeks, and see Washington sparkle.