Dear Abby

DEAR ABBY: My wife and I received an invitation from a family member to attend their daughter "Heidi's" wedding on Father's Day weekend. We canceled our existing plans in order to attend, and gave "Heidi and Dave" an appropriate gift. As the ceremony progressed, the minister asked, "Do you, Steve, take Heidi" ... at which point the guests began whispering to themselves, "STEVE?"

We were embarrassed, thinking we had made a horrible mistake in addressing the gift card — and we weren't the only ones. Finally, after much discussion among the guests, someone approached the bride's mother to ask if we had made a mistake. "Oh, no," she replied. "Dave backed out two weeks ago. Heidi asked Steve if he would marry her, and he said he wasn't doing anything else this weekend, so why not?"

I was flabbergasted. Predictably, in less than three weeks, this sham of a marriage was over. Heidi, of course, retained all the gifts.

My wife says it's no big deal. I say the bride's parents should have called the guests and explained the circumstances so they could make an informed decision about attending. I was also raised to believe that in cases such as this, where the commitment to marriage was so obviously missing, that the gifts should be returned. Am I wrong? This has caused a rift in the family.

— JILTED GUEST

DEAR GUEST: It appears that Heidi and her parents became so involved in the details of the "production" that they forgot the real meaning of the wedding celebration — the joining of two people together in a lifetime commitment to each other. Frankly, I am shocked and disappointed that a minister would go along with such a farce, much less "bless" it. (Could the clergyman also have been a stand-in for the real thing?)

Yes, the wedding should have been called off when the groom backed out. Yes, the guests should have been notified. Yes, any unopened or unused gifts should have been promptly returned. And no, you're not wrong.

DEAR ABBY: I'm looking for a socially acceptable alternative to mailing out 150 Christmas cards to all my husband's co-workers. He is a VP at the company.

I thought about making up a large platter of home-baked cookies and a platter of cheese, crackers and fruit. I would like him to bring them to work and put them in the kitchen with a note that says, "Happy Holidays from (us). This would be in lieu of Christmas cards ... Enjoy!"

I think it's a good idea, but my husband doesn't agree. What do you think?

— CHRISTMAS ELF, FOGELSVILLE, PA.

DEAR CHRISTMAS ELF: I think signing and addressing the cards might be less time-consuming. If you allow two to three cookies per person, you will be baking for days. Are you sure you know what you would be letting yourself in for?

Also, I don't know the "culture" at your husband's company and whether they are open to change. If I were you, I'd follow my husband's lead even though it is a chore. Perhaps he should address half of them.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.