DEAR READERS: Are the holidays getting closer together or does it just seem that way? It's time to start preparing for the holidays again, so do yourselves a favor and do your Christmas or Hanukkah shopping now.

Here's my annual - slightly revised - column on holiday shopping.If you're wondering what to give Aunt Olivia or Grandpa, who doesn't go out much, let me tell you what NOT to give them:

Forget dusting powder, after-shave and cologne. (They probably have several unopened boxes gathering dust on their closet shelves.)

Grandpa doesn't need another necktie, and Aunt Sylvia doesn't really want any more brooches, necklaces, bracelets or earrings.

With the price of groceries so high, older folks who live alone on a fixed income would be delighted to receive a basket of goodies. Include small cans of salmon, chicken, ham, tuna, fruit, crackers, cookies and instant soup mixes.

Older people who live in confined quarters do not need more "things." Don't send music boxes, statuettes or other bric-a-brac.

A truly thoughtful gift: postcards and some lined stationery with envelopes and a generous supply of postage stamps. (Enclose some felt-tip pens, too.)

A handy gift: An assortment of greeting cards for all occasions, so that they, too, can send birthday, anniversary, graduation, get-well and condolence cards to others.

Don't give a gift of clothing unless you're absolutely sure the size is right.

If you're tempted to pass along a scarf, purse, wallet, or some little doodad you received three Christmases ago, please don't; the recipient will probably find it just as useless as you did. (Besides, you might get it back the year after next.)

If someone on your gift list is living on a pension, a check for any amount would be far more appreciated than some useless little trinket. Another thoughtful gift would be a year's subscription to a newspaper or magazine you are sure he or she will enjoy.

Never give a pet to anyone unless you're absolutely sure a pet is wanted and will be properly cared for. And if you want to delight someone who considers his pet a "member of the family," include a tin or two of cat or dog food for the pet.

Don't give wine or liquor unless you're sure the recipients imbibe. Candy, nuts and fruitcake make wonderful gifts for those who aren't counting calories, but please have compassion for those who are, and lead them not into temptation. Also remember that many older people have difficulty chewing hard candies and nuts.

Instead of giving someone a gift with permission to "take it back and exchange it if it's not what you want," save yourself (and them) time and effort by giving gift certificates.

For those who maintain their own homes and apartments, consider a gift certificate for other types of service needed - window washing and rug cleaning. And don't forget certificates for the barber shop, beauty parlor, taxi rides or dinner out.

Holiday time can be depressing for people who are alone, so if you know someone who might be alone and lonely, give him (or her) the best gift of all - an invitation to have a holiday meal with you and your family. Loneliness is the ultimate poverty. - Love, ABBY