Well, this will sound very humbug, but I am at my wit’s end with my next-door neighbors. Their lawn looks like an explosion of inflatable Christmas characters by night, and a holiday display of dead-looking characters, deflated and sad, by day. I’m not sure which is worse, although the by-day presentation is sort of depressing, and messy, really. But that’s not the worst. The worst is that they blast Christmas music out of speakers from sundown until almost midnight. I mean blast. We can hear it through our storm windows, curtains shut. I truly don’t want to be the humbug neighbor, but could I at least ask them to turn the music down?

You could, or you could strive for your cheeriest self and think that it is only a few days until Christmas is over and do your best to not listen. Then fill yourself with hope that Christmas is when the display, and the music, end. If they keep it going and you are looking at Groundhog Day as right around the corner on your calendar, by all means knock on the door and suggest that it is time to turn off the music. You probably won’t ask them to drag the sad and deflated characters off their lawn, but you can hope that they will.

I have been invited to celebrate Christmas at dinner with a family that really is like family to me. The hostess has said I shouldn’t bring a thing, everything is taken care of. We don’t exchange gifts, but I want to take a gift of some sort, because I so appreciate their including me. Would this be all right?

Yes, it would be fine to take a gift, as you usually would when invited anywhere for dinner. You could take a game for the whole family to play, a pretty Christmas cactus or poinsettia, wine, something you have baked for them to enjoy the next day, or for their breakfast the next morning, a holiday music CD, (if they have a CD player), or your favorite holiday movie on a DVD (if they have a DVD player), for example. Since you are close to the family, you would know best what they might enjoy.

How do I address a holiday card to a married couple when the woman has not taken her husband’s last name?

On the same line, you write Ms. Ann Jones and Mr. Adam Smith (or vice versa – it doesn’t matter whose name is first).

We have been invited to a “black-tie-optional” wedding. We understand that this means that my husband could wear a dark suit, shirt and tie instead of a tuxedo, if he wishes, but what does it mean for me?

For both black-tie-optional and black-tie-requested weddings, a woman wears a dressy knee to tea length dress or suit, or even a dressy pant ensemble, if that is her preference. There is no need to wear a long gown.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to catherine.michaels@gmail.com