Isidore Makali, 10, should have known something was up when he first took a seat in the East Room at the White House's 24th annual diplomatic children's Christmas party yesterday afternoon. Last year, he said, the children who came to the first lady's cookie-fest were seated facing the North Portico. This year, the 390 children from 76 countries faced the West Portico. It made things more cramped, he noted.

But the young Kenyan forgot all about the tight seating arrangements when -- from a hiding place at the west end of the room -- up popped ALF, star of the television program of the same name. The cuddly brown creature nearly prompted a riot as the kids hopped to their feet and surged forward to touch him. "I'm a diplomat from another planet!" ALF crowed.

Hewowed his audience with a colorful poem about Christmas on his home planet, where the holiday is known as "Twangle" and where Santa Claus -- who was also at yesterday's affair and who bore a mysterious resemblance to NBC weatherman Willard Scott -- was once lost on his way to Earth. "We're working together now," ALF said of Santa and himself. "We got a new angle. I say 'Merry Christmas.' He says 'Merry Twangle.' "

Indeed, ALF and the quirky, wonderful Santa seemed to get along quite well, trading wisecracks and barbs and keeping the crowd of youngsters, many of whom were dressed colorfully in the styles of their native countries, quite amused. "You're coming to the best Christmas party in the world," a chuckly Santa Scott told the group. "You know why? We have cookies -- luscious cookies that will make you fat like me!"

Nancy Reagan, resplendent in a striking red dress that was cut, as one veteran first-lady watcher noted, just below the knee, was charming but brief. "ALF, before I leave, I have to ask you one question: Who does your hair?"

ALF said his hair hasn't been done since he left his home planet, but he was clearly pleased that the first lady gave him such recognition. It made up for the travesty that occurred upon his entrance to the ever security-conscious Executive Mansion. "I came in the gate, they had a dog sniff me," ALF said. "I can't believe that. I'm a star."

But to the 390 kids -- who also had the opportunity to meet the Santa Bears, Cinderella, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and to hear a military band play Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite -- ALF was a star indeed. "He was so funny," said 11-year-old Rocio Amorozo of Ecuador. "I didn't expect to see him."