Dear Miss Manners:

At our place of employment, our immediate supervisor shares holiday greetings by circulating one Christmas card among all the subordinates.

New employees, trying to keep the card, are embarrassed and stunned when asked to return it so that it can continue on its rounds. We find this crude form of sharing holiday greetings tasteless and insulting and would like your professional opinion.

Your office needs a bulletin board, electronic or otherwise. That is Miss Manners's professional opinion.

Dear Miss Manners:

I do not know how to behave in a delicate but serious situation. My husband's adult sister told us that she had been sexually abused as a child by their uncle (by marriage). We believe her and want to be supportive of her.

However, she has not told other relatives, nor confronted the uncle about the abuse. We do not wish to cause harm or distress to his sister or to other family members. Yet we see this uncle at Christmas, and have been repeatedly invited to visit his house.

It is very difficult for us to be civil to a man we believe caused great harm to someone we care about. We have tried to avoid him, but because no one else in the family knows about the abuse, most relatives keep inviting him to all the family gatherings. Avoiding him completely would entail skipping Christmas with the extended family, something we would miss terribly. We live in another state and see many relatives only during the Christmas holidays.

How should we behave at a family gathering where he is present? Should we avoid these gatherings altogether? If we do avoid gatherings what, if anything, should we say to him or to other relatives as to why?

Miss Manners is going to do you the courtesy of answering the question you asked, which is how you can reconcile your conviction that this person has put himself outside of civilized humanity with your desire to participate in a pleasant gathering with people who are not aware of it.

She emphasizes this, because other Gentle Readers will demand to know why she did not answer the question of how to humiliate the uncle in front of everyone. Because you did not ask it.

To avoid involving others, the technique to use is a modified form of shunning. Rather than pointedly withdrawing your hand if he tries to shake it, you occupy it by patting your hair; rather than turn your back if he approaches you, you say "Excuse me," and turn to go elsewhere; rather than greeting any friendly overtures with silence, you respond only with a nod. Above all, you refuse to smile or to discuss "what's wrong."

The punishments of etiquette may sound weak, but Miss Manners assures you that to be treated coldly with no opportunity to explain is frightening.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

(C) 1999, Judith Martin