Among Christmas cards filled with holiday cheer, Utahns can expect to find a greeting of a less-welcome season in their mailboxes from the Utah State Tax Commission.

Every taxpayer who filed an income tax return last year in Utah should be getting a tax form in the mail to use in reporting 1988 earnings to the Tax Commission.Some 462,000 copies of the long state income tax form were mailed to Utahns last Friday and 153,000 copies of the short form should be sent out by New Year's Eve.

This earliest-ever mailing of tax forms is not the state's way of making the holidays more miserable for either taxpayers or mail carriers not used to seeing the forms until after Christmas.

Instead, according to spokesman Lee Shaw, it was a choice of mailing out the tons of tax forms and booklets that came back sooner than expected from the printer or putting them in temporary storage.

The decision made by Tax Commission officials, Shaw said, was to "get them in the hands of the taxpayers because that's where they're going to end up anyway."

Last year, Utahns didn't get their state income tax forms until mid-January because of a series of problems that began when a severe snowstorm delayed a shipment of paper to the printer.

"It was a good set of circumstances this year," Shaw said when asked if the early mailings would become an annual event. "We'll see what happens next year."

The Internal Revenue Service will not send out federal income tax forms until the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. The IRS tradition of mailing them then benefits both the U.S. Postal Service and the holiday spirit of taxpayers.

"We don't want to spoil people's Christmas," said Bill Craig, a spokesman for the IRS in Utah. "The main reason is we don't want to interfere with the flow of Christmas mail."

Still, Craig said he had heard some taxpayers had already received their federal income tax forms, a phenomenon for which he had no immediate explanation.