It's party time. While months like February and July are among the wallflowers of the social season, and March somehow languishes too, December is the calendar's social Miss Congeniality.

So I always brace for what's coming.

As delighted as I am to receive invitations to holiday parties and concerts and special events, I'm also panic-stricken that although I have a closet full of clothes, I still won't have anything to wear. This seems to be largely a lamentation of the fairer sex, perhaps because we've been groomed to think that appearance matters more than it should.

In my case, it's because try as I may, I never seem to own the perfectly right shirt or skirt or dress that will express that I'm right up to date, have lost those five pounds, and won't be decked out in the entirely wrong degree of formality for the occasion.

My husband, of course, simply takes three minutes to slip on his navy blazer and gray trousers, both always fresh from the cleaners and at the ready.

It never fails that, just as party season approaches, I will get a killer cold that leaves me with the kind of red nose that is not cutely Rudolph-like, and has left me as pale and wan as a swooning maiden of yore.

And yes, in my life, parties - and bad hair days - always coincide.

But those are actually minor matters compared with the big one.

Holiday parties often bring together people you know you know, but can't quite remember how or from where. They also call for introducing these vaguely familiar folks to others.

"What is his or her name?" becomes the panic of the moment. It's buried there in some out-of-the-way brain cells but not accessible after that first glass of white wine.

Is it somebody from the gym? Is it the receptionist at the dentist's office? Or hey, is it a neighbor you occasionally see across the street taking in the mail?

As the panic mounts, so does the realization that my husband can't help because he has the same deer-in-the-headlights look I'm surely wearing by now.

I've never quite learned how to finesse these awkward moments. The direct approach - simply asking, "How do I know you, and what's your name?" - somehow doesn't cut it in this season of goodwill but bad social memory.

I have been known to take the path of least resistance by holding up my wine glass and mumbling something about a refill.

But I have also, to my shame, become fairly adept at raising a question like "So what have you been up to lately?" that could provide clues.

And in my most desperate situations, I use my shameless fib about needing to catch up with our hosts, whose names I do know. The fact that we already have caught up on everything reasonable before doesn't stop me from planting myself in front of them for a rescue.

Presumably they know the names of their guests and can perform that rescue.

I have, of course, gotten caught in my social stupidity. Case in point: the time I mixed up the names of the first wife and the third wife of an infamous Romeo when I was positive I had it all straight. An icy correction from number three straightened me out.

I have been known to feign a beeline to the ladies' room when the utter bore who knows my name while I don't know his is droning on about his last trip to collect some rare fauna in the Amazon.

So the advice I have for all holiday hosts, therefore, is simple:

Along with your hospitality, the lovely crudités and dips, could you pretty please pass out name tags?

Your guests, I assure you, would be eternally grateful.

Sally Friedman is a writer in Moorestown.