East is west and west is east and never the card shall greet. But it was a close call.

Twenty-five thousand gold-colored Christmas ornaments the National Geographic Society designed and planned to send as holiday favors to its employees and friends nearly went out with a map of the Eastern Hemisphere reversed -- with Asia on the left and Europe and Africa on the right.

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The two-dimensional ornaments, with a hemisphere on each side, were to have been mailed inside the society's annual season's greeting ("One World"). Instructions were printed on the card explaining how to peel off the metallic ornament and bend it into a three-dimensional representation of planet Earth, of which National Geographic is a well-known chronicler, cartographer and custodian.

The ornaments were pasted into the cards with the land-mass-backward side hidden, and would have gone out to vast geographic embarrassment had it not been for the curiosity of a few Geographic staffers, who detected unmistakable signs of continental shift. The ornament was conceived in house, but manufactured by an outside vendor, where the error occurred.

Society spokesman Robert Sims said, "Had Murphy's Law taken its course, they would have gone out." He described the rescue as a "miracle."

The Geographic, which has not been experiencing the best of its 102 years, has printed a new 1990 card (minus the folding instructions), which it expects to mail next week. Most recipients this year won't get any ornament inside -- but a fortunate few, including the society's own employees, will get an updated version of last year's error-free two-hemisphere ornament.