Gone are the days -- If indeed they ever existed -- when grateful postal patrons could present their faithful mailman with a knitted scarf, one of grannie's famous fruit cakes or a bottle of cheer at Christmas time.

With the holiday season fast approaching the U.S. Postal Service is preparing its annual reminder to employes -- and patrons -- that it is the thought that counts, and exchanging or soliciting gifts could become a federal case.

Although there is no record of a postal employe being sent to jail for accepting a six-pack or a pair of gloves from a customer on the route, there have been incidents -- several years ago in New York City -- where a few workers were fired for taking illegal C.O.D's from businesses.

In those cases the postal employes were charged with rerouting deliveries so that some firms got their mail faster than those companies that didn't put something in the pot at Christmas time.

Postal officials say that kind of thing is rare indeed. The vast majority of employes do their work and are grateful if their customers smile from time to time and keep their dogs chained at delivery time.

But to avoid the appearance of anything improper, the postal service is again advising that where customers and workers are concerned, it is blessed neither to give nor receive.

The no-gift rules apply all year long, and also discourage persons from giving presents to the IRS aide who is auditing your taxes, or the Social Security claims examiner or clerk handling your check. But Christmas is the time when the "problem" most often crops up, and the postal service is forced to play Scrooge, because its employes are the ones who have the most contact, and probably the best working relationship, with the public.