One of the few benefits of the Christmas holiday is its relatively brief duration. As all decent people eat Christmas dinner before 3:30 p.m., the typical holiday meal is over and done by 6:00, leaving survivors with a long, dead evening to stare at each other through bloated eyes around a Scrabble board, or watch It's a Wonderful Life for the 400th time.

Fuck that. Once you've finished your pie, thanked your hostess, and poisoned your stepsister, your duty as a holiday guest is over, and you should get out.

You'll be tempted to swear off all social gatherings for the rest of your life. Fuck that, too. The sooner you reclaim your ability to enjoy a holiday gathering, the better. Here's a foolproof, step-by-step guide for crafting the dreamiest post-holiday evening this side of an opium den.

(To Be Executed Before Dec. 25)

*Get yourself to one of Seattle's two Trader Joe's stores (4601 Roosevelt Way NE; 100 W Galer St). For those not already enslaved, Trader Joe's is a family-owned, company-operated supermarket with stores in 17 states and diehard devotees in every one, the majority of them lefty urban alterna-somethings upon whom Trader Joe's has bestowed the gift of culinary dignity at cheap-ass prices. The company's trick: Find those things a lot of consumers want a lot of the time, buy them in bulk and repackage in Trader Joe's wrap, then sell them at incomparable prices. So, go to Trader Joe's and buy enough for six people of whatever you want--it's all relatively thrifty. Best bets: cheese, bread, almonds, fruit, flowers, good coffee, good beer, cheap wine. Buy enough of the last two to amply intoxicate your half-dozen guests.

*Go to an independent video store and rent at least six hours of entertainment. Good television miniseries--BBC/A&E's Pride and Prejudice , The Sopranos, and Six Feet Under collections, any Prime Suspect--are perfect, and allow for natural bathroom breaks. Inspired groupings--The Godfather/The Godfather Part II, Shoah/Showgirls, every movie in which Allison Janney falls down--are also good.

*Go to a Washington State liquor store and buy a bunch of girly booze--Baileys Irish cream, Icebox Mudslide--that tastes good in coffee.

*Go to a good newsstand and spend at least $35 on magazines. TheNew Yorker and Harper's are always good, but don't overlook the delights of the lesser glossies, particularly People, Entertainment Weekly, and the almighty Us, the only magazine in the country smart enough to employ body-language experts to interpret paparazzi shots of celebrities. Must to avoid: idiotic rock/titty mag Blender. Most underrated: Details, the greatest gay men's periodical ever.

*Tidy up all semipublic space in your house/apartment/lean-to. If you are a pot smoker, clean your pipe/bong/hookah like it's never been cleaned before.

*Invite between four and six people to come to your house on the evening of Dec. 25. Schedule their arrival time for two hours after you get home from your day of holiday duty. If this has folks arriving at 9:00 p.m., so be it. Require every attendee to bring in a paper bag the weirdest/stupiest/ saddest present he or she received this holiday season. Require them to bring nothing else (although extra booze never hurt anyone).

On the Day Itself

*Go do whatever you're required to do. Be nice, and don't drink too much.

*Come home and take a nap. Don't get naked or under the covers, and don't turn out all the lights--you're only allowed to lie down for an hour, which is why you should play a record while you nap. The best napping records begin softly, continue moderately, and feature a sleep-stopping jolt near the end, to ease you back to consciousness. If you like white guys with guitars, try The Velvet Underground. If you like black guys with guitars, try Axis: Bold as Love. If you don't care about race or instrumentation and simply want the world's greatest CD to nap to, go directly to Ella F.'s and Louis A.'s Ella & Louis.

*Get up and make a pot of strong coffee. Pour some coffee in a cup, pour some girly booze in the coffee, then sit down and flip through your stack of brand-new magazines. If you were smart enough to buy a copy of People, take a minute to do the crossword puzzle, flatteringly designed to challenge only Alzheimer's patients and newly awakened coma victims. (Sample hints: Everybody ____ s Raymond; ____ Lewis and the News.)

Once Your Guests Arrive

*By this time you've had a nap, enjoyed some buzzy booze, and learned a whole bunch of ridiculous trivia about today's stars--which means you're ready to be the perfect Christmas-night host. A fair number of your guests will have spent the day sustaining small-talk conversations while running the family-gathering gauntlet, and most likely, the last thing anyone wants is more goddamn conversation. Your job is to get your guests in and comfortable as quickly and smoothly as possible, and you'll find that mindless magazine chatter--"Did you hear that Christina Aguilera pierced her uterus?"--serves as a peerless lubricant in getting people seated and beveraged. (Once everyone's arrived, those who enjoy smoking pot should do so.)

*When the stoners are stoned and the drinkers are on round two, go around the room and have each attendee reveal his or her heartbreaking gift of the year. Don't turn this into a sharing circle--the whole show 'n' tell session should last less than 20 minutes.

*When show 'n' tell's over, move on to the night's true activity: watching other people do things while surrounded by people you like. If you're blessed with cable television, check out TNT, MTV, and E! before you pop in any videos or DVDs--if fate is sweet, at least one of the three will be airing a thrilling daylong marathon of something brilliant (i.e., Law & Order, Newlyweds, and Melrose Place, respectively). Bring out your stack of mildly fingered magazines for your guests' perusal during whatever you end up watching. Keep drink glasses full, and supplement them with hangover-preventing glasses of water as the party enters its second half. Serve your Trader Joe's stash when the munchies hit. And when it's all over, sleep well.