Christmas should be for the children, one hears.

That is such a charming statement that Miss Manners tries not to imagine what theological complexities need to be dismissed before Christmas can be fashioned into a simple occasion for pleasing the young.

Surely innocent wonder and delight are essential to the meaning of Christmas, and if that can be prompted by tucking an orange into a stocking, why so much the better. (Don't be frightened, children: That is merely old-fashioned talk for the miracle of making items you can recite from television commercials materialize in your very own living room.)

However, Miss Manners has come increasingly to suspect that the quality being emphasized at Christmas is not so much innocent wonder and delight of youth as a less attractive disingenuousness in which all can participate.

Greed, which is no respecter of age, is only part of this. The childishness that Miss Manners has sadly observed on special exhibit for the holidays features a range of behavior associated with the precivilized state before acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility for other people's feelings.

In spite of that massive problem with which members of this society have been struggling for decades now -- How to Get in Touch With Your Feelings -- most of us are blessed from birth with a reasonable ability to assess how we feel. We feel hungry, cranky, playful, burpy, sleepy, fussy or whatever. And in spite of The Great National Communications Crisis, we manage to get this across where it counts.

Civilization begins with the difficult realization that conveying feelings produces responsive feelings. And thus it becomes necessary to calculate how restraint and dissimulation can produce desirable effects on others. An evil business, no doubt, but essential if we are to live in groups.

All of us know people who shouldn't even be allowed to visit groups, any time of the year. But the bustle and excitement of Christmas often exaggerate, in otherwise well-behaved people, feelings that may not be fairly characterized as wonder. Nerves get frazzled under extra demands; crowding produces irritation; expectations, whether connected with people or consumer goods, produce disappointment. And it all gets turned into what is then dignified and solidified as Christmas depression.

So far, Miss Manners is rather sympathetic. According to etiquette, it is unseemly to delve too deeply in people's innards, so Miss Manners is free to commiserate about the fact that extra reserves must be summoned at this time to produce the polite and genial exterior necessary to maintain a general tone of amiability, not to mention holiday festivity.

But that is not always what happens. Far from assuming the burden, many people simply declare it too heavy and dump it -- all over the rest of us. That is how Christmas childishness most asserts itself.

If Christmas is for children, according to this attitude, then why don't we all scrunch down a bit and sneak in? Lining up with the Wee Ones are the Long-in-the-Tooth Ones, who cast off their mature manners to demonstrate, with childish simplicity but a lifetime of practice at complaining, that they are irritated by shopping, cooking and too much sociability; lonely, bored, annoyed with relatives and friends; despairing of meeting new and interesting people; dissatisfied with the performance of ritual; envious of the lot of others; and just plain downhearted.

What fun for the rest of us. But the possibility that these demonstrations are a nuisance to others, and dampen the general spirit, is not considered.

Miss Manners could point out that cranky children are not happier for being allowed to indulge their feelings. Wallowing has never been an uplifting activity, whereas putting oneself aside and concentrating on making others happy has a surprisingly good success rate in cheering the person who does it, in spite of how dreary it sounds.

She will confine herself to stating that she will simply not allow Christmas to be used as an excuse for bad manners.

Are coasters under glasses de rigueur? Or, like napkin rings, are they just another middle-class convention? A brief history would be nice.

A history of coasters? Both the East Coaster and the West Coaster? Miss Manners would be in the library for weeks.

Perhaps you would settle for a brief history of the term "middle class" as used insultingly in a country where everyone claims to be middle class, lower middle class, upper middle class, lower lower, upper upper, etc. Miss Manners has never heard an American yet claim to be plain upper- or lower class.

The middle class is usually spurned (by itself) for being orderly and cautious. Miss Manners finds that curious.

Yes, the mad, wild, devil-may-care thing to do is to toss all napkins in the wash after every meal (thus eliminating the need for napkin rings) and to plop wet glasses smack down on furniture without regard to possible damage.

Miss Manners has decidedly not noticed this being done in whatever class you call it that has antique furniture. Those who think it too middle class to have coasters may give out cocktail napkins with drinks. It is de rigueur in all classes to refrain from issuing napkin rings with those.