The Christmas cards are going out late this year, because I didn’t plan ahead. I was going to take a picture of Daughter and the new dog, but the camera battery was dead, and I took a nap. Repeat daily.

Next thing I know it’s almost Christmas, and the cards haven’t gone out. This is horrible, because you know what happens if you don’t get cards from people you expect to get cards from: You get culled. Did we get a card from the Witherspoons this year? We didn’t. Hmph. Guess someone trimmed their list and we didn’t make the cut. Hmph.

Who are they, again? Remind me.

What do you mean? They’re our friends?

If our cards arrive after Christmas, well, that’s a faux pas on the scale of breaking wind in front of the queen. You can just see the recipient standing on the porch, pulling out a card that arrived on the 26th, and burning it right there on the spot without opening it.

So I had to get them out, and that meant desperate, sweaty clicking through online design options.

It’s bad enough that you have 19,345 designs from which to choose. You have to choose your sentiment.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, of course. You could say “Happy Christmas” but that sounds English, somehow. Oh, dash it all, I dare say I left your gift in the boot of my motorcar, but Happy Christmas anyway.

Then the second tier of expressions:

JOYEUX NOEL. I see this more and more, as if Christmas is somehow classier in French. Or maybe it means you’re having lots of red wine this season. Joy-Ux NOel, e’ryone! Hic.

HOLLY JOLLY. That’s it. Christmas is left unsaid, and while I suppose it goes without saying, holly is not intrinsically mirthful. No one ever saw holly and was filled with merriment and laughed until they burped up a little figgy pudding. Sorry! Couldn’t — snort! — help myself. Noted the holly and was filled with goodwill.

’TIS THE SEASON. Yes; ’tis. When isn’t it? This is a nice anodyne and nonsectarian greeting, but “Season’s greetings” is like saying “Prevailing Climate Salutations.”

Which season? Stand on the beach in June and say “ ’Tis the season to be jolly, because the warmth of summer brings happiness to the winter-hardened heart,” and people would think you were daft. What’s with him, using ’tis in June? Let alone jolly? Should we call someone?

HO HO HO. This is understood as the signature laugh of Santa — or the Jolly Green Giant. That has to chap Santa something fierce; you can imagine him on his phone to his lawyers. “I know you said I should copyright it, OK, OK. I figured, ‘Who’d take my catchphrase?’ But every time I turn on the TV there’s this creepy green golem saying my line! And he’s jolly, to boot! I’m jolly! That’s my thing! There has to be something you can do or there’s going to be a lot of coal in stockings in Le Sueur this year, let me tell you.”

What if your card said just “HO”? Would friends worry? Hmm, he seems only 33 percent as happy as last year. Two HOs would be deadpan sarcastic. “HA HA HA” wouldn’t work at all; people would think you were making some humorless blurt of despair.

Just to recap: three “HA” = weird. Three “HOs” = heartwarming. Three “HEEs” = don’t even ask. And do not, under any circumstances, mix them up. “HA HO HEE, ’tis the Joyeaux Holly!” would seem like you’re quoting a beloved Christmas animated special from a parallel dimension only slightly different from our own.

Finally, the most noncommittal Christmas card message ever:

NOW IT’S WINTER

Seriously, that was one of the options in the online list of generic cards. This works if your friends know you as someone who walks around the house saying things like “That is a dog. The wall is painted. Now it’s winter. The candle is red. Knives are sharp” until someone taps you on the shoulder and guides you back to your favorite chair and puts a Rubik’s Cube in your hands.

Otherwise, really: Who sends out a card announcing a meteorological state? But if you didn’t get the right perfect picture to tell everyone how perfect your family looks, go with NOW IT’S WINTER, don’t upload a photo and send out blank white cards.

Maybe add a message: Us Having Fun in Iceland. Hope the new year finds you healthy and happy!

Love, the Witherspoons.

 

james.lileks@startribune.com