Halloween has been over just a few short weeks, but the merriment continues with December holidays, which are getting a November jump-start this year. To confirm this all one has to do is:

— Take a look at the calendar. The first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving both fall on Nov. 28, a practically unheard-of occurrence.

— Make a quick trip to any shopping mall. Christmas is in full swing. Giant evergreens decorated with pine cones and shiny ornaments were decking the halls at Tucson Mall the day after Halloween.

Holiday parties light up the season and may include kindling the Hanukkah candles, frying up piles of latkes, (potato pancakes, traditionally served at Hanukkah) which will add a novel touch to the “Thanksgivukkah” dinner, trimming the tree and partaking of the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake.

But let us not forget that most important piece of the figurative holiday pie, the gift exchange.

It often seems that many gifts selected for these exchanges were extricated from the junk pile, minutes before it was carted off to the trash.

If you don’t want an item you’re about to offer at a gift exchange, are you sure somebody else would? The gift doesn’t have to break the bank. I much prefer an inexpensive item I can use to something that will make a quick trip to the circular file when I get home.

Also, when picking a gift for the exchange, let’s keep things generic. Most folks celebrate Christmas, others Hanukkah, others Kwanzaa. A few celebrate one or more, or none. Why play gift exchange Russian roulette? A calendar or day planner for the new year, good-quality pen or gift card are but a few items just about anyone can appreciate.

A notch down from the unusable gift is no gift at all. In one memorable exchange I selected as my gift a brightly colored gift bag, with paper flowers sticking out for decoration. My assumption was that anybody who had put that much thought into the presentation must have chosen a really cool gift. I was wrong. The bag was empty; the decorative paper flowers were the present.

My personal gift exchange pet peeve is actually a thinly veiled form of stealing, which I think should be banned. Someone opens a gift they really like. The proof? Their eyes light up and they hug the new acquisition as if it were dear Aunt Agatha, just home for the holidays

In a cruel but popular game, said acquisition is swiped by the next person in line, who has the choice of picking a new gift or choosing one that has already been opened. As the new acquisition is summarily snatched out of the recipient’s hands, the disappointment is obvious. But one must be a good sport, mustn’t one, even as slightly sadistic giggles fill the room.

There’s something about this so-called game that’s just not in the spirit of the season.

Some folks play a tongue-in-cheek version of the holiday gift exchange, trying to outdo each other with the most outrageous white elephant. “Stealing” another’s piece of “schlock” in that case is a whole different story.

While we’re on the subject, a few words seem in order about Secret Santa; in this scenario each member of a group — for example, a family or circle of friends — chooses the name of another for a gift. Problem is that some Secret Santas are shopaholics while other are shopaphobes. If you’re lucky your Secret Santa is the former. If it’s the latter hurt feelings, even tears, can result.

A friend recently told me her gal-pal group’s gift exchange also includes giving to others. Each person brings a small wrapped gift. The others bid on it, with all money collected going to charity. Kind of a heart warmer, don’t you think?

One last thought for enjoying your holiday party/gift exchange to the max: after the presents have been opened and the socializing begins, take a few steps out of the comfort zone of your friends. Get into a conversation with someone you do not know. It could be the best holiday present you give, and this one’s to your best friend: you!

Barbara Russek welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net