Maybe you remember the grand parties you went to over the holidays last year, the festive dinners at Thanksgiving, the warm wassailing over Christmas, the scintillating conversation and genial fellowship of . . . well, perhaps not. More likely what stays in the mind are little things, embarrassments as well as pleasures, the near hedonistic delight of poring over catalogs, the last-minute rush to find the right present when nothing is open, the hours spent laboring over a sumptuous dinner so your guests can leave the table early to watch football.

But there are alternatives, and many of them are collected here this week. We've gathered information about everything from table setting to jet setting, discovered how to have your holiday dinners mailed to you from all over the globe, ferreted out services to help you plan, produce and clean up after a party, and consulted with many lonely guys to find out how best to spend a holiday by yourself. There are recipes, menus and suggestions about where to take food for those most in need. Here and there are bits of information to drop at cocktail parties, or simply to amuse you as you browse.

None of this would have been possible without the indefutigable efforts of Phyllis Richman, our resident connoisseur and consumer advocate, assisted by Elizabeth David and Dodie Kazanjian. There are also sterling contributions from Joan Nathan, Sara Ban Breathnach, Roberta Sabbon, and Art Levine. Caterer June Jackson is now showing her line of dips and spreads - just the thing for social emergencies - at Bloomingdale's delicacies department. The Better Cheddar ($6 a pint) is a zingy, spreadable, slightly smokey cheese concoction with crunches of walnuts, delicious as-is on crackers or melted on hot sandwiches. Le Popeye ($5 a pint) is a spinachy mayonaise dip which can also serve as a salad dressing base, the binder for chicken or ham salad, the dollop on a baked potato, or a sauce for cold meats and seafoods.

(And you've got a secret: The homestyle version of June Jackson's Le Popeye. You have to work out the proportions yourself, but basically it amounts to thawing and squeezing the liquid out of frozen chopped spinach, stirring in mayonnaise and a bit of chopped onions, and personalizing it with your own seassoning touch - garlic, a squeeze of lemon, or whatever mystery ingredient suits your fancy.)