Now is the time to make up a "things-you-remember-too-late in December" list, for Christmas next year.
If you are as well organized as I, the list will disappear until February a year from now, when, of course, it will be of no use whatsoever. It will disappear because you put it in a safe place, which brings us to the first item on the list.
Item: The safer the storage place for Christmas gifts, the higher the probability you will never find them by Christmas. They will turn up in July.
Item: Christmas gifts purchased before Oct. 15 self-destruct.
The most ethereal, the most angelic angel ever made to grace the top of a Christmas tree, and the perfect gift for a friend who has always wanted such an angel, was both stored in a safe place and purchased before Oct. 15. That was almost eight years ago. She's never been seen since, and has no doubt ascended to higher realms by now.
Other disappearing acts: a tiny lamp for little Laura's dollhouse, "Guide to India" for Charlotte, Audubon book for Tim, woolen bed jacket for Aunt Lou.
Item: When and if lost gifts ever surface, they will be utterly inappropriate for giving at a later Christmas.
Charlotte has already returned from India and says she never wants to go near that place again. (She arrived in the monsoon season.) Tim, who was to get the bird book, has shifted his enthusiasm to wildflowers of the Middle Atlantic states. Aunt Lou has developed an allergy to wool. And Laura, for whom the dollhouse lamp was intended, is now 22.
Item: What seems at the time of purchase to be the "perfect gift" for someone is the same thing you thought was the "perfect gift" for her for the last three Christmases in a row. But you remember only after the package is in the mail or when thanked.
I have sent my daughter five knitted scarf, cap and glove sets over the past six or seven years. As soon as she thanks me -- with a noble attempt to reword the gratitude -- the awful reality penetrates.
Item: Christmas cards bought in post-Christmas sales are often half-priced, but include envelopes that become self-sealing in August humidity. By the time I make this discovery, all the cards left in stores are original Botticellis, covered in gold leaf, and priced at quadruple what I can afford.
Item: When asked what they want for Christmas, children will ask for the latest $700 video game or say, "I don't know." Until Christmas Eve. Then they will suddenly announce that the only thing they want is a TV-advertised toy that is sold out in every store within a 100-mile radius.
Item: A parent who does indulge in the latest video game as a child's Christmas present will be told on Dec. 22 that there is an even better and newer video game he prefers. He has seen the one he asked for at Joey's house and "it's dumb."
Item: If, in an effort to correct gender-related stereotypes, you have bought a dump truck for your little girl and a toy stove for your little boy, stand clear to avoid being trampled when they exchange presents.
Item: Don't try to get funny at Christmas. What do you say when you have bought a friend you thought had a whimsical sense of humor a magenta pillow with Niagara Falls embroidered on it in brilliant green silk and he thanks you profusely?
Item: A toy that appears to be a bargain at $10 will require $9.89 worth of batteries.
Item: A complex toy that needs to be assembled late Christmas Eve will have instructions in Japanese.
Item: Christmas candles -- the tall red tapers -- are sold out by Labor Day. The week before Christmas the only candles in stock are lavender or orange.
Item: Children you send presents to in distant places grow at a far faster rate than children nearer home. Little Tina in California, whom you haven't seen in several years, will jump from age 6 to 16 from one Christmas to the next. And it's humiliating to think you sent her a Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Item: No matter how long you haunt grocery and hardware stores for empty cartons, there will be none that fit the undeflatable beach ball or the pogo stick that seemed such inspirations when purchased. That was before you thought about having to send them across the country.
Item: Wooden building blocks cost more to mail than to buy.
Item: Gifts ordered from catalogues sometimes leave something to be desired--like the ones you saw in the store and wish now you had bought. That huge Yule log cake looks more like a twig. The tote bag with initials -- just the thing for each child in a family of five -- comes with separate initials. They curl up when pressed with an iron. Sewing 15 initials on canvas by hand takes 9 1/2 hours.
Item: As soon as you buy two new packages of tinsel, thinking you were out of it last Christmas, you will find five unopened packages in the basement. It's icicles you are out of, because you threw them out with the tree last year in reckless abandon. Now the stores are out of icicles.
Item: Cards that arrive after you have sent yours always have notes on them bearing momentous news that you have forgotten the nature of the following Christmas. And you know you should send condolences or congratulations, but don't remember which.
Item: You may remember the biggest item too late in December -- the reason for all the pressure of this nonnegotiable deadline of the Christian year. But for me at least, late Christmas Eve with all deadlines met, the holy night floods my soul.