It is always possible, of course, to read too much into things that happen at Christmastime, when all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons are overwrought. Still, we think that a couple of recent events, one a violation, the other an affirmation, might warrant a second look.
First let us take the matter of what the Navy did with a Christmas present proferred by the Soviet naval attache to his opposite number at the Washington Navy Yard. It did not make it out of the guard house.
A chortling world now knows that the Navy did not just look this particular gift horse in the mouth. It was subjected to an X-ray, which showed that the package contained "cylinders of liquid," and to bomb-sniffing dogs, which growled at it meaningfully.
After much consideration, the Navy -- with the help of the Army, yet -- blew up what turned out to be two bottles of choice Russian vodka. An opportunity for warmth and cheer among those guarding us from harm went up in a shower of broken glass.
We must not be carried away. We must not think of the blown-up vodka as a metaphor for any offer that the Soviets might make at the forthcoming Geneva peace talks and glumly imagine that if they offer us a package, we will call in the dogs and the bomb experts and blow it up without more practical examination. That, as Richard Nixon used to say, would be wrong.
On the other hand, it has an irresistible timeliness for members of the press. Just the day before the vodka went up, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had been berating The Washington Post for printing a story about a spy satellite which he said revealed a lamentable and dangerous ignorance of national security. The Navy's reaction to the vodka suggested that overreaction also can be a danger.
As we say, the little episode can be over-interpreted. On the other hand, it should not be overlooked by serious students of paranoia, which is officially out of order at this time of year.
We turn now to a more encouraging event that pointed firmly toward peace on Earth and good will toward men.
On Christmas Day, members of the Jewish community filled in for Christians on the antiapartheid picket line outside the South African Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. The Jews wanted to give the Christians a chance to celebrate their greatest holiday.
Several weeks ago, Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee phoned D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, a protest organizer, and said that he and his fellow Jews would man the lines in the daily ritual that has been enacted since Thanksgiving. They volunteered for the celebrity arrests that are part of the rite, but Fauntroy suggested that Christmas was to be a day of peace for everyone, including the police who have to handcuff the demonstrators who break the rules.
So Bookbinder, Christie Balka of the new Jewish Agenda, Rabbi Andrew Baker and Rep. Mel Levine (D-Cal.) crossed arms with Fauntroy -- he couldn't stay away -- and sang "We Shall Overcome" at the proper distance, and everyone went home feeling wonderful.
Relations between blacks and Jews, once brothers in the civil rights struggle, have been strained over the years. They have differences over affirmative action and quotas. Blacks were affronted by grumbling from Jews that they really should concentrate on domestic problems and leave foreign policy matters to groups less caught up in poverty, teen-age pregnancies and other concerns.
The presidential campaign made matters worse. The anti-Semitic statements of Jesse Jackson and his cohort, Louis Farrakhan, exacerbated resentments to the point of outrage. As it happened, both communities supported Walter Mondale.
"It shows that on certain basic questions, we are on the same side," says Randall Robinson of TransAfrica, the protest's producer and director.
The South African Embassy demonstrations have become a festival for the left-out. Blacks who felt alienated by the Reagan landslide needed a show of "selfhood." Others bruised by the election flocked to the cause -- labor leaders and white liberals who felt silenced by events. Thirty-five conservative Republican congressmen joined the clamor, not wanting to be done out of a place at the table when legislation is written.
Even President Reagan got into the act, breaking a four-year silence with a condemnation of apartheid.
Nobody thinks that the show of fellowship on Massachusetts Avenue necessarily means the dawn of a new day in Jewish-black relations. It's just that it raised possibilities, which is what we are supposed to concentrate on at this time of year.