Dear Amy:

For five years my partner and I have hosted Christmas Eve gatherings for his family. I like the way we make our home warm and festive.

While I think we do a knockout job with decorations, food, and gifts, I am always left disappointed with the way my in-laws behave.

They are generally a bunch of Debbie Downers and Negative Neds who mope through the evening eating, complaining, borrowing our computer to check their MySpace pages, and engaging my partner in a violent war game on the Xbox.

My partner doesn't have a problem with this type of evening because this is how his family "celebrates."

As our children get older, I am saddened that this is how they will see this holiday being celebrated. I really want to make it a night that is special and magical. I have suggested we go to midnight Mass in the past, but that idea was shot down.

How can I nudge everyone toward a more heartwarming evening celebrated with the true spirit of Christmas?

- Decking Halls in D.C.

Dear Decking: Though nothing says yuletide quite like a rousing game of Grand Theft Auto 3, I suggest you get your partner to at least agree to lock away the Xbox and computer on this night.

Mainly, you should concentrate on your children. Few cities are as beautiful as D.C. during the holidays. Make sure the kids see the national Christmas tree and take a spin or two around the skating rink on the National Mall.

Your partner is the key to helping his family adjust to a different way of celebrating, but he knows only the Negative Ned version of the nativity. Jolly him along by involving him beforehand in the cookie-baking and house-decorating, and if you want to take the kids to church that night, you should.

Dear Amy: I'm really worried. There are two girls in my science class who text, eat in class, and cheat on tests.

When they don't finish their homework, they copy off my papers. I feel really bad, but I just can't stand up to them. They think they're at the top of the world.

I finally told them no, but when I wasn't looking they used my highlighters and took the answers off of my paper.

This stinks. I feel insecure and in a horrible position. I want to feel safe at school, but I just don't think I can talk to a counselor about this because I don't want to be a tattletale. I also don't want to be blamed for letting them cheat off my paper.

Can you help me?

- Insecure

Dear Insecure: These girls are bullies and you can help to stop them.

You've been brave to say no to them, but they haven't listened, so now you need to take things to the next level.

The simplest solution for now is to get your seat changed so you won't be near them. You should speak to your parents and the teacher, say what's going on, and ask to have your seat changed to a different location. A good time to do this would be on your first day back at school after the holiday break.

A friend of mine who is a teacher says the best way to deal with a bully is to stand up for your rights. You aren't tattling by doing this; you are showing them that you have a backbone and that they had better not mess with you. There's a difference.

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