PUBLISHED: 1:19 PM on Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Zippy greetings mark December
The warning was dire, the instructions clear, the announcer basso profundish.

Use clear tape, a sturdy container and include a ZIP code to assure cards, shiny packages and 47-pound fruitcakes arrive at their destinations before ... (consult an attorney, then insert seasonal holiday or commensurate greeting of your choice here).

Wait, a ZIP code?

Memo to postal patrons and other breathing organisms able to lick a stamp: It's 2005. We're almost to 2006. Eisenhower is no longer in office, and yes, the Dodgers and Giants play on the West Coast.

ZIP codes are in use ... for four decades and change now.

We started attaching the newfangled digits (Zoning Improvement Plan) to addresses during the summer of 1963. That's 43 December rushes we've had to practice.

A highly placed source - and my good pal - in the U.S. Postal Service confirmed my worst fears.

"Yeah, we get lots of them (without ZIP codes). We even get them without addresses. Just a name and a town."

He said the Postal Service has technology that can translate some of this minimalism.

But why should it ... when ZIP codes have been around since Bill Gates was in short pants?

Hey, I'm as stuck in the past as the next fogy and nearly always appreciate Old School, but reminding us about ZIP codes (still apparently an excellent idea) seems as silly as reminding us that hot coffee is hot and objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

The season has other exciting news: The poinsettia is no longer poisonous to humans.

Well, actually it never was, nor has anyone ever died from having a poinsettia sandwich (rye, with mustard and a hint of relish).

This debunking is not an invitation to dinner.

Chances are good that you would get sick from eating the red beauties, as they taste like julienne of steel-belted radial topped with a light, week-past-expiration milk and cheese sauce.

Or so my sources tell me between wretches.

Of course, toxic rumor differs from simple gossip. That's why no one can verify that a group of retired accountants once rolled and smoked poinsettia leaves at a Grateful Dead Christmas Concert, the magnum opus of which -- and this, too, is unconfirmed -- was a rollicking rendition of "Angels We Have Heard While High."

Zippy reminders and a wassail bowl of the truth are glad tidings this holiday season ... considering.

With the recent outbreak of the "War of Seasonal Greetings," which continues apace and apoplectic, any rumor or mailing misstep may make for a cranky Christmas - my holiday of choice.

How redundant.

We already have sugar overdoses and lack of sleep to make us feel lousy.

I'm so withered that those old-fashioned Christmas celebrations look and feel strangely like my childhood.

We didn't have ZIP codes then. I suppose we didn't need them.

At my house, Christmas gifts arrived without extra numbers (the address, however, was on them).

Yes, ZIP codes have improved our mail service, bettering accuracy as billions and billions of pieces of mail and packages continue to travel in every conceivable direction.

The greetings wars, however, make me wonder where the rest of us are headed.