A holiday fable:

It was 10 days before Christmas and Martha Stewart was busy stenciling cheery holiday scenes on each square of a roll of toilet paper when suddenly she heard a knock at the door.

She opened it and saw a dozen of her closest friends and relatives. They all looked very somber. They were clutching copies of the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, the one with a red wreath on the cover, a homemade artificial wreath garnished with, believe it or not, "velvet-covered acorns."

"Oh, come in!" Martha said. "I just love to have guests drop by unexpectedly during the holiday season. In fact, there's an article in the new issue about how to whip up quick hors d'oeuvres for unexpected guests."

"We read that, Martha, that's one of the reasons we came," said one relative. "We're worried about you, Martha. Do you realize how crazy that article is? When guests drop by unexpectedly, a sane person doesn't whip up 'Smoked Salmon and Caramelized Onion Stuffed Celery Stalks' or 'Chickpea Pimiento Crostini.' A sane person says, 'Hey, want a beer?' and starts looking for the Triscuits."

"Triscuits!" Martha said. "Funny you should mention them. I was thinking about doing a feature on how to weave your own Triscuits at home."

"Martha, listen: We're worried about your health," said one friend. "We think you've . . . um . . . lost touch with reality. That's why we brought Dr. Reiss with us. Dr. Reiss is a psychiatrist, Martha, and this is an intervention. We're here to help you."

"A psychiatrist!" Martha said. "You think I'm . . . crazy?" "Martha, look at the magazine!" the friend said. "It's gone completely around the bend. Do you realize that there's an article on how to decorate Christmas ornaments! Let me read it to you: 'The truly thorough decker-of-halls will even want to decorate her ornaments. This is most easily done with an artful application of glitter . . . .' Martha, this is crazy. You don't decorate ornaments, Martha, ornaments are decorations."

"But it's fun to--"

"And look at this, Martha: Page 108, making poinsettias out of satin ribbons. Do you realize that nearly every church in America sells real poinsettias at this time of year? They're lovely. Nobody needs to make a fake one, Martha. And look at Page 158: Do you really think people need to decorate their window boxes with slipcovers made of birch twigs? And Page 174--velvet-covered acorns. Martha, velvet-covered acorns! What were you thinking?"

"But--"

"Martha, sit down. Look at this. This is Page 118 of your magazine. What do you see there?"

The world's most famous multimedia homemaker gazed at the page. "It's a feature on decorating coffee bags," she said. "What's wrong with that?"

"It's crazy, Martha. Why would you want to decorate a coffee bag? A coffee bag is for carrying coffee home from the supermarket. Who cares what the bag looks like, for God's sake? And you're telling people to decorate it with a ribbon and a sprig of juniper."

"But people like to decorate things at Christmastime," Martha said. "It's traditional. It's good to make things."

"That's true, Martha, it is good to make things," said Dr. Reiss. "It's also good to wash your hands. But when someone washes their hands 47 times a day, we say they have a psychological problem. It's called an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I believe you have a similar problem."

"I do?"

"Yes, you do, Martha," the shrink said. "Think about it. In this magazine, you've got a feature on the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas.' "

"I love that song," Martha said.

"So do I," said the shrink. "Everybody does. But, Martha, most people are content to listen to the song, or maybe sing it. But you, Martha, you've got a 20-page feature here on how to make all the gifts in the song--paper turtledoves, baked French hens, five different kinds of gold rings, ornate artificial goose eggs, pastry swans, lords-a-leaping paper dolls. It's madness, Martha, can't you see that?"

"I thought it was kind of cute," Martha said.

"It's way beyond cute," said the shrink. "You just take everything way too far. Flip to Page 116. What do you see?"

She found the page. "It's a feature about making cookie boxes."

"Martha, look at what you're doing. First you tell people how to make cookies. Then you tell them to make a box for the cookies. Then you tell them how to make a handle for the box. And then, Martha, you tell them how to decorate the handle by weaving it with ribbon in a candy-cane pattern. Don't you think that's gilding the lily a little bit?"

"Gilding the lily?" Martha said. She had a faraway gleam in her eye. "That's a great idea for one of my spring issues--how to gild your lilies at home!"

"Never mind, Martha," said Dr. Reiss. "You're not going to be doing any more work for a while. You're going to take a long vacation in a nice, quiet place where we can help you."

"But what about my magazine? My Web site? My TV show? My radio show? My newspaper column? People love this stuff."

"That's precisely the problem, Martha," Dr. Reiss said. "You've driven millions of women crazy. They think they have to be like you. They try to do what you do and they can't and it fills them with guilt. It's mass hysteria, and we've got to put a stop to it."

"But--"

"We have a court order, Martha," said the shrink. He turned to a couple of burly men clad in white coats. "Strap her into the jacket, boys."

"Is that a straitjacket?" she asked, her eyes filled with horror.

"Yes, it is," said the shrink. "It will keep you from hurting yourself."

"But it's so plain," she said. "Can I just decorate it a little? Maybe applique a cheery holiday scene--"