Christmas is automatically a wonderful time for entertaining because everyone feels so festive. And it's easy to make a house look beautiful at Christmas without spending a great amount of money. Lots of red ribbon tied everywhere -- on candelabra, mirrors, mantels, stairways -- makes a house look lovely. Greenery, balsam branches, sprigs of holly gathered from outdoors, and pine cones that you've picked up in the country and saved for decorations -- you don't need much more than that. I like to set out pieces of fruit surrounded by greenery and holly, and candles make marvelous, inexpensive decorations, too. You don't have to have fancy candlesticks to make the house look beautiful with them. (Be careful, of course, that they are not placed where a child can knock them over and start a fire.)

When I was growing up, we always had real candles on our Christmas tree. When the tree was lit, it was a beautiful sight, but our family wasn't very popular with the local fire department. Once our cat and dog got in a fight -- the cat ran up the lit tree and the whole thing came tumbling down! I still have the candle holders we used then.

Christmas is, of course, a family time, and family traditions are a special part of Christmas. I always associate Christmas with music, and in our family Christmas music means a collection of records that we've saved over the years and like to listen to together. And most families have special decorations that they bring out for this holiday season every year -- it wouldn't be the same in our house without the bells on the front door, our Santa Claus music box that plays "Jingle Bells," the big red felt mouse and the group of elves from Sweden. Another tradition from my childhood was collecting Christmas ornaments that have some connection with family members, and Bill and I have kept that tradition for our children. Every Christmas morning a few new ornaments appear on the tree -- maybe a little glass figure on skis if one of the children has been skiing, a typewriter for the one who's been writing his thesis. With four grown children, we have quite a collection by now.

Since our wedding anniversary falls on Dec. 23, we have even more reason to celebrate. And because this is a time for families to be together, the kind of party I like to give best is one that includes all ages. I've often had a party like that in the evening from 6 to 9, a buffet supper followed by carol singing. We hire someone to play the piano, dinner music, and then after people have eaten, he switches to Christmas songs; we hand out Xeroxed copies of carols and everyone gathers around the piano for an old-fashioned sing. (You could have dance music after supper, but I don't think you can stage-manage too many things at once. People don't like to be told a lot of different things to do.)

Although the "open house" -- inviting a big group of people to "drop by" over a period of several hours -- is a popular kind of party with many people at Christmas, it's a little too unpredictable for me because you never know how may guests will be there at what time. Especially with inflation, I think most of us would like to have a more definite idea of how much food and drink we should provide. I've also given up putting "Regrets Only" on invitations and always put "RSVP" and my telephone number instead. "Regrets Only" sound like the hostess really doesn't care, and I've found that people often won't respond.

So many people in Washington come here from other cities, or other countries, and can't always get back home to visit family during the holidays or have family visit them. In Washington -- or anywhere, for that matter, in our mobile society -- friends become a kind of extended family. For a number of years we had a special kind of party in the late afternoon of Christmas Day, after everyone had opened gifts, eaten a big dinner, written thank-you notes. Then we'd have our closest friends and their children in; while the adults talked, the children played all over the house, and then we served nothing but drinks for the grown-ups, Cokes for the kids and piles of turkey sandwiches. And there was always some trinket for the children, maybe cornucopias filled with hard candy and hung on the Christmas tree for each child to take. It's a perfect way to end Christmas Day.