All around you is the party you weren't invited to. Its music blares from loudspeakers everywhere. The celebrants, intoxicated with joy, proclaim how warm and wonderful they feel.

Promise yourself you'll spend next December in Peking, or Riyadh, or at sea in a rowboat. Any less drastic measures will force you to contend with your own feelings about Christmas.

This year, you're stuck. Realize that December, even without Christmas, is difficult. It is the month at the bottom of the calendar, into which fall all your failures of love and will. In December, you can't evade your longing any more. The debt must be paid, or you risk carrying the old year's burdens into the new.

Other months you can devote to your head and its thoughts, your stomach and its cravings, your legs and their wanderings. December is for the heart. Adding Christmas to the month heightens the ache that occurs at the end of anything.

Loneliness, grief, and sadness may abide with joy the rest of the year, but the bright burning star of Christmas obliterates the textures and shadows. Your melancholy must hide, or be bleached white. Your psyche loses itself.

Dickens knew that this is a time of ghosts. Christmas evokes your past self, or cruelly juxtaposes past loves with present emptiness. Grief will visit keenly now. Forgive your confusion or awkwardness if death hangs about you while others sing. You are not alien; you complement them. Your awareness of death balances and gives meaning to their celebration of birth. Honor your rage; it protects the preciousness of your past.

Santa Claus confounds your struggle to be an adult -- pandering his magic and euphoria of Christmas morning -- when he has abandoned you. He won't be giving enough, no matter how good you are.

We have the added misfortune, unlike the Chinese or the Saudis, of living in Santa's Land, from sea to shining sea. We have the unparalleled capacity to give, receive, want, want, want. Parsimony and austerity may be our only roads back to stability.

We instituted the custom of getting drunk one week after it's all over to poison the greed out of our bodies. The hangover reminds us that we are adults.

Holiday depression--despite recent reports that its existence may be exaggerated -- can be debilitating. But as awful as it may seem, it may be an attempt to protect you from a woeful and bitter child self. Your rage may even provide energy against this creature from the deep.

Perhaps your indifference, even as frozen and stiff as it makes you feel, permits you to endure this child's hunger. Yet, as you well know, these defense postures take on a life of their own. You may spend a whole month depressed to avoid a good 20-minute cry.

Worse yet, you may fool your friends into believing that you really don't want a present, and they won't get you one. Or your anger may make them feel ridiculous in even wishing you a Merry Christmas. The "bah, humbug" approach only can leave you vulnerable to ghosts of your child-Christmas past.

You are better off talking to the kid: you. Find ways to include and to validate him. If you choose not to, there is still one true bedrock of consolation. Christmas, like life, doesn't last that long.