It has been a while now since I've had the challenge of using up or distributing the two-hundred-gazillion zucchini an inch of garden soil will produce every summer. But I remember it well - the rising panic as the piles of zucchini burgeon, threatening to topple and bury entire neighborhoods. Having dumped so much upon family and friends I was no longer welcome in their homes, I was desperately seeking feasible alternatives to rid myself of the massive surplus. I was only one person caught in the zucchini-grower's web; I knew there were millions out there in the same predicament.

The first public service announcement I issued in my capacity as the director of the Zucchini Eradication Project (ZEP), proved successful beyond my wildest imaginings. Perhaps you recall the directive to replace candy with zucchini when filling a trick-or-treater's bag. With the porch light off, the trick-or-treaters were left to judge their take by the weight being placed in their bags. Oh, how these children rejoiced, praising your generosity, at least until they arrived home and saw what it was you'd placed in their bags - a dozen zucchini.

Then came the ZEP campaign to include zucchini in all Thanksgiving preparations. The challenge? - set not a single non-zucchini dish upon the Thanksgiving table. The zucchini growers' overwhelming responses sang out with praise, thanking me for assisting in the riddance of more of those dastardly zucchini. Note was made, however, of an unusually large quantity of leftovers this year, as well as a multitude of questionable claims of "dieting" through the Holidays.

Unfortunately, the distribution at Halloween and menu-saturation at Thanksgiving hadn't succeeded in completely ridding kitchens, cellars, garages, living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms of the bushels and bushels of zucchini. It was time for ZEP to go where no zucchini had ever gone before. Yes, the following suggestions will tell you, oh miserable zucchini grower, how to incorporate zucchini as an integral component of your Christmas celebration!

Simply adhere to the following plan and you, too, will never again have to worry about having grown too much zucchini.

Start with your Christmas tree. Have you heard the legend of the "Christmas Pickle?" Well, who can tell the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini? Envision, if you will, garlands of dark green zucchini circling your tree, even draped over your mantle. And for the very tippy-top, is that a zucchini star we see up there? Yes, it certainly is!

What could offer a warmer greeting to family and friends than a beautiful evergreen wreath decked out with fragrant zucchini and glowing ripe apples? Tied with a big red bow, these wreaths will make wonderful gifts for not only all the houses in your neighborhood, but throughout the entire town. If you happen to live in a large city, all the better. You may find that supplying zucchini wreaths for all the doors in, say, Chicago, will deplete your zucchini stores. Lucky you! You need not continue reading these suggestions, whereas the remaining small town or, worse yet, country dwellers had best carry on.

Imagine, if you will, the excitement of the annual Christmas Pageant when zucchini gets into the act. Once more you have a zucchini star to fashion - this time for over the manger. The shepherds were not actually guarding sheep, but acres and acres of zucchini. Take this opportunity to cover the floor with the squash and use as many shepherds as you please to "watch over" it.

Did you happen to know the manger animals were actually fed a diet of zucchini? They should have been, anyway. And now is our opportunity to make right what those inn owners messed up: just pile those feed troughs high with zucchini.

The message of great joy brought down from heaven to Mary? Written in a copy of the "1000 Ways to Cook Zucchini," and at the end of the pageant some lucky member of the audience will be awarded the book in a drawing. Merry Christmas, indeed!

Why was there no room in the inn? Silly question - It was filled with zucchini. And those three wise men carrying precious gifts for the newborn baby? What else but three bushels of zucchini, one for each wise man. You'll have to be sure the pageant participants are prepared to hop quickly into action for this next assignment. For as the crowd attempts to escape post-pageant - Got 'chya! Have those shepherds guarding all exits and handing out cheerful bags, tied with the lush red and green ribbons of the season, and filled to the brim with zucchini!

Should you still find yourself a few zucchini shy of no zucchini, open your heart and allow the charity of the season to enter in. Just imagine the gratitude flowing forth from families who would have had no Christmas at all - no gifts, no Christmas dinner - and now see them enjoying opening their brightly shining Christmas zucchini presents and sitting down to a huge Christmas feast, all featuring - you guessed it - zucchini! Brings tears to their eyes, I'll bet. You say you need to add a spark of Christmas cheer to your lawn and porch? With but a few simple tools and supplies everyone has readily available, we can fashion Christmas trees of zucchini - several of varying sizes, wrapped in brightly colored outside lights, can add a festive glow when set on your front porch. Or lined up along both sides of your driveway and sidewalk, the zucchini trees will light the pathway upon which your friends will arrive. Better yet, you don't have to decide between the porch trees or the driveway trees - do both!

Do you usually bestow Christmas gifts of appreciation upon those who have made your life a little easier, a little happier throughout the year? Do you find yourself confused when trying to figure out the percentage of a tip to be awarded for services performed? Well, worry no more! A beautifully, richly wrapped box of zucchini is a thoughtful and welcome gift appreciated by everyone on your list What better way to say "you care" than to pass along this delicious - and healthy - treat?

You say you still have some zucchini remaining? Then it's time to revamp the tradition of the "Twelfth Night Celebration." As practiced in many communities, end-of-the-Holiday-season Christmas trees are collected, stacked up and then torched, creating one humdinger of a bonfire. But, I ask you, where is it written you couldn't light up a flaming heap of zucchini instead?

**Important Public Service Announcement: Please, desperate zucchini growers, burning sky-high piles of zucchini must never be attempted on your own at home. Trained fire-prevention professionals must be present at all zucchini bonfires to assure public safety.**

These are but a few suggestions to get you started (say, wouldn't Santa love a plate of sliced zucchini with that large, frothy glass of cold milk awaiting his visit to your house?).

Add some of your own ideas and make this Christmas season one you, your friends, families, neighbors, even complete strangers, will never forget. Make zucchini the star of your holiday traditions and you will never be stuck with bushels of the stuff, molding and shriveling away in your basement, ever again!

And a Merry (Zucchini) Christmas to All and to All a Good (Zucchini) Night!