If problems crop up because "he says 'tomayto' and she says 'tomahto,'" imagine what disasters occur when he always has feasted on Christmas Eve and her tradition demands that the goose appear on the table Christmas Day.

And will it be goose, and if so will it be stuffed with fruit or with sausage or perhaps with chestnuts? What if he insists it's not really Christmas without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding? And then will it be pudding, mince pie, a buche de Noel?

Compromise. Dinner will include everything -- a long, laden feast with relish trays and oyster stews, roasts on Christmas Eve, geese on Christmas Day, with gingerbread and lebkuchen, pfeffernusse and springerle and a fruit-studded stollen nudging up against the mince pie and plum pudding.

It is not only the board which will groan.

If traditions are to be changed, it must be done gently, sliding from the old to the new, so that no one becomes morose and goes off to hide under the Scotch pine (which should have been a Douglas fir).

One possibility is to get everybody involved in creating a new tradition: the Christmas breakfast. The danger in this plan is that someone in the group will not accept that the introduction of a new holiday meal means the cutting back of an old. A large feast on Christmas Eve. A laden buffet on Christmas morning and then, early on Christmas night, a small, light supper.

Or, if abandonment of Christmas dinner causes too much anguish, it could be a pick-up feast on Christmas Eve. The idea is to let the cook have one night off.

Breakfast is easy. Christmas breads can be baked in advance and stored in the refrigerator, or even frozen. After the children have opened their presents -- and before they've discovered that 2 AA batteries are not included -- set the table with glasses for fresh orange juice or champagne, depending on the age of the eater, and warm up previously baked (or bought) breads in the oven. Pile the breads in baskets: braided Christmas breads, croissants, brioche or scones (which only take a few minutes to make and could be done at the last minute if you don't mind getting a bit floury).

If it's too much bother to cope with sausage and bacon, serve pates, slices of ham or smoked salmon. Scrambled eggs only take a minute, and to make everyone feel they are feasting, put out all different sorts of jams and a few different kinds of honey.

It will either work and you'll find yourself with a whole day to read Christmas books, or next year someone will say, "But we always have a roast for Christmas Eve and a goose on Christmas Day and an absolutely wonderful breakfast."