Happy Easter, and get those white shoes off right now and back into the closet.

If Miss Manners told you once, she told you a thousand times, it's not Easter when the white-shoes season opens; it's Memorial Day. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you may wear white shoes. Not before and not after.

In a society in which everything else has become relative, a matter of how it makes you feel, a question between you and your conscience, and an opportunity for you to be really you, this is an absolute.

Miss Manners not only doesn't want any argument about it -- she doesn't even want any discussion. For goodness' sake, if you want to smash the conventions of your own heritage, go find a rule that is more fun to break.

Considering that she had previously decreed this, once and for all, Miss Manners has been tossing letters she has received on the subject into a box marked "Oh, Stop It."

However, it doesn't stop, and the time has come to clean out the box. Once and for all:

Memorial Day is Memorial Day, not Memorial Day Observed. It is on May 30. Confederate Memorial Day has nothing to do with shoes.

Yes, the rule applies to gentlemen as well as ladies. As a matter of fact, even in season, a gentleman never wears white shoes except with sports clothes and during the daytime.

No, sneakers don't count, except on the day they were purchased. After that, they're not white, anyway.

Yes, white shoes that are a part of certain set outfits worn for specific activities may be put on for the duration of those activities. Tennis players and brides may wear white shoes, but they must change when the respective events are over. (Tennis players should also shower. Brides are always fresh. Miss Manners digresses.)

Weather is never an excuse. Dividing the calendar year into different seasons -- one hot, one cold, one chilly and one romantic -- was one of Nature's more charming ideas, but it was a vague one. Many perfectly agreeable places to live don't follow that system at all, and even regions that pretend to, enjoy upsetting people occasionally, just for a laugh, and schedule heat waves and cold fronts (whatever they are) when they don't belong.

Sensible people, wherever they may be, therefore adhere to the concept of seasons, without regard to whatever chaotic conditions may be prevailing outdoors. They know that the human spirit requires some orderly variation, even from perfection -- otherwise one ends up drinking suspicious-looking fruit drinks all day at the club and plotting schemes that will end in no good.

It is enough of a concession to the weather to allow it to dictate whether the clothes to be worn are light, heavy or waterproof. By distinguishing between generally light summer clothes and darker fall and winter clothes, you acknowledge seasons without undue suffering.

Summer clothes include seersucker suits, patent-leather shoes, white or very light cream blazers, white cotton gloves and white dinner jackets (which Miss Manners despises). Velvet may be worn from October through March. White wool may be worn by a lady in the winter, but only with shoes and gloves that are dark enough to show she is serious. Straw hats are supposed to be a sign of spring, but they look silly with warm clothes.

Spring is the only season to have its own specific colors, like colleges. Spring's colors are Navy with Touches of White About the Face. It also has a sneaking fondness for babyish pastels.

Unfortunately, spring was abolished by the clothing industry some years ago. (Miss Manners has the only authentic spring coat left in existence, because everybody else argues, with some reason, that they get more use out of their raincoats. Hers is a smashing pink mohair job that waits patiently for its annual airing at an April garden party. Before that, it is too cold out, and after that, it's too warm. Some years it is too warm at the garden party, but Miss Manners can't bear to disappoint her spring coat.)

Unfortunately, only the white shoes have their own entrance and exit days; the other seasons change by the pooled judgment of residents of a particular place. For example, spring is declared when everyone gets a good whiff of it in the air, even if it later turns cold; and summer is felt to have arrived when the children are underfoot.

Miss Manners hopes she can trust that this folk instinct has not been trampled under by people who are more interested in self-expression than in a general workable climate, so to speak. One absolute rule is exhausting enough, especially if Memorial Day happens to be hot.

Q: I am curious to know the proper way of eating onion soup in a restaurant without looking as if you have no table manners. It is very difficult to handle the melted cheese, which ends up in a melted glob in your soup bowl.

A: Miss Manners is aware that it is difficult. If the glob only ends up in the soup bowl, you may consider that you have won.

Miss Manners' personal first rule is never to order onion soup when she is wearing a silk blouse. The second is not to be impatient. A person who bites into something still bubbling from the oven has only himself to blame.

After a suitable interval, one cuts through the cheese with the spoon, to get at the soup. That does not mean that you are ready to eat soup, however. If you were to lift a filled spoon to your mouth at that point, you would find long strands of cheese hanging down like Rapunzel's hair from the tower.

So withdraw the spoon empty of liquid, discreetly twist the spoon to wind up the cheese strings, and then go down for a dip of soup. The idea is to get a mixture, but any cheese left in the bottom of the bowl may be cut with the side of the spoon, wound and eaten.

Nobody ever said the good things in life were easily come by.