MR. HOWARD PUTNAM is observing his third consecutive Christmas as the president of Southwest Airlines, which, primarily at its Dallas corporate headquarters, is observing its tenth Christmas in business. The 1,800 employees of Southwest Airlines are presumably celebrating their own Christmases.

In not one of those 10 Southwest Christmases -- the seven of the pre-President-Putnam period and the three of the Putnam presidency -- did any employee of the airline have to waste a moment in doubt as to what to do with the Christmas bonus; there wasn't one. This year, President Putnam decided to do something about it, something that, as he put it, he hoped would boost company morale.

That something was not your boring, predictable, unimaginative Christmas bonus, which tradition-bound employers have normally imposed on their employees. It was not, in other words, uninspired old money. No, each and every one of Southwest Airlines' 1,800 employees received -- are you ready? -- a recording of President Putnam himself singing "White Christmas."

But wait; that's not all. Also on the record was a medley of Christmas songs featuring Marc Emmick of Southwest's provisioning department accompanied by his wife, Julie, and an original composition, "Christmas Southwest Style," by Tony Brigmon of the marketing department.

Wouldn't you know that a few bah humbugs have been heard from Southwest employees, who grumped about its not being a "gold" record. In fact, L. T. Faircloth of the machinists' union local at Southewest complained that he would have preferred a "green" (get it?) Christmas to the white one Mr. Putnam had wished Mr. Faircloth.

There has been no report yet on what the employees of Ewing Oil in and around Dallas received in their Christmas envelopes. Maybe J.R., on cassette, singing "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."