Dear Abby: I am a 45-year-old divorced man with no children. I have lived alone since my divorce 15 years ago and wouldn't have it any other way. I'm not anti-social. I have a steady girlfriend and many friends.

My problem is my family at Christmastime. Nobody in our family is particularly religious, so during family gatherings the holiday is not celebrated in the spiritual sense. Frankly, I find the "Ho, ho, ho" aspect of the holiday overblown and am relieved when it is over. I prefer to spend Christmas Day reading, catching up on home repairs, or weather permitting — cross-country skiing or ice fishing.

My family insists I must get together with them simply because it's Christmas. I live within a half-hour of all of them and can get together with them whenever I like. However, they cannot accept the fact that I am not a "Christmas guy." (I still give nice gifts to all the kids and chip in on a big gift for my parents.)

My girlfriend accepts my decision and celebrates with her family, although deep down I suspect my "Grinchiness" does bother her.

Abby, I mean no disrespect and wish them all a merry Christmas, but how can I convince them that I prefer to spend the holidays alone? — Christmas Loner and Loving It

Dear Christmas Loner: It may be difficult to do, because your perception of a merry Christmas is so different from theirs, and your attitude isn't shared by the majority of people. What you have failed to consider is the fact that Christmas is traditionally a family holiday — and to your parents and siblings (and your girlfriend), you are an important part of the family picture.

However, since you are uncomfortable with the family celebrations, tell your relatives that this is your quirk, and you expect them to respect it. Eventually, they'll get over their disappointment. Enjoy your home repairs, cross-country skiing and ice fishing, and in the words of the Bard, " . . . to thine own self be true."

Dear Abby: I have read your column for years and was delighted to read another of your "pennies from heaven" letters from Lisa Angilano of Berea, Ohio, concerning her brother who was killed in a car crash. I also lost a brother last year in a car accident.

After reading the paper, I went to my usual morning Mass and decided to ask the Lord to let me know if my brother was in heaven, along with a sister and my mother who had also passed away.

I prayed to find some pennies from heaven to let me know. Later that morning, I went to the post office and when I came out, I found three pennies clustered together in an empty parking space next to my car. I was moved to tears. Now I know they are all there. — Grateful in California

Dear Grateful: If you had any misgivings, I'm pleased they were put to rest. Your experience proves the truth of the saying, "When in doubt, send money!"

Thought for the Day:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.

Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.

Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.

Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.

Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny. — Author Unknown

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips. What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.) © Universal Press Syndicate