CLEVELAND, Ohio – The holidays are closing as fast as Myles Garrett can tear into an opposing backfield. So here’s our annual guide to mailing deadlines, packing tips, stamp prices and other postal facts for this time of year.
Mail-by dates for packages to arrive in the contiguous United States by Saturday, Dec. 25:
Wednesday, Dec. 15: Ground service for both USPS and Fed Ex.
Friday, Dec. 17: USPS First Class.
Saturday, Dec. 18: Priority Mail for USPS and International Priority for Fed Ex.
Tuesday, Dec. 21: Fed Ex 3-Day Freight.
Wednesday, Dec. 22: Fed Ex 2-Day Freight.
Thursday, Dec. 23: USPS Priority Mail Express and Fed Ex 1-Day Freight.
Friday, Dec. 24: Fed Ex same-day is available, as is Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery, which can be as fast as five hours, a rep tells us. It will be available to Cleveland customers through this date.
Friday, Dec. 10: Postmark deadline for USPS’ Operation Santa and mailing deadline for Letters to Santa programs (see below for details).
Monday, Dec. 20: Known as Black Monday by postal workers for the volume of mail they have to slog through, this is a day to avoid.
Saturday, Dec. 25: Christmas falls on a Saturday this year. No UPS pickup or delivery service, and UPS Store locations are closed.
More info: Here are deadlines for USPS international and military mail. Here are more dates for Amazon, Fed Ex and UPS.
• From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day the Post Office anticipates handling 850 million to 950 million packages, USPS strategic communications specialist Naddia Dhalai said. Add letters and cards and the number jumps to 12 billion. Yes – billion with a b.
• The busiest week? Monday to Saturday, Dec. 13-18. “If they can do that (mail) beforehand, that is ideal,” she said as a reminder for folks to get letters, cards and packages in the mail.
• Multiple options exist, from sleigh-piloting St. Nick soaring with the moon in the backdrop to an otter in snow and more. Go online to see this year’s variations.
• First Class stamp is 58 cents. (Last holiday season: 55 cents.)
• Postcard stamp is 40 cents. (Last holiday season: 35 cents.)
Trivia: From 2006 to 2007, a First Class stamp went from 39 to 41 cents – about the price of a postcard stamp today.
Happy 25th! The year 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of the inaugural Hanukkah stamp.
Note: Always buy ‘forever’ stamps, which remain valid at the price you paid. So if you purchase them at 58 cents and the price goes up, you can still use them.
Tip: If you are mailing cards, consider buying cards immediately after Christmas. That’s when store prices have been known to plummet, and you can have cards for the following year. The downside is pickings might be slim.
Packaging a box properly for mailing might not be an art form, but there are key points to know:
• Two-inch wide tape meant for packages is preferred. Do not use masking, cellophane or duct tape. Tape side seams first, then across the top. Reinforce bottom flaps.
• Don’t overpack. If the box bulges, that is not good.
• Boxes should be double corrugated. If you have a flimsy box, don’t try to salvage it. Break it down and recycle.
• If you use popcorn as packing material, make it air popped. But with bubble wrap, newspaper, packing peanuts, air packs, crinkled butcher paper and shredded paper available, popcorn might be better served while watching a movie. Also: Leave at least a 2-inch space around items for packing materials.
• If you shred bills, receipts and other documents, save the paper strands to use as packing material.
• If shipping clothes, papers or anything that could be ruined by moisture, place the items in heavy-duty plastic, or at least double bags.
• Put the name and address of the addressee inside the package. If you are printing the label for the outside of the box, you can print a duplicate, or jot the info.
• Want to drop mail in a USPS box? It must fit the slot, weigh no more than 13 ounces, and have correct postage.
• If your item is breakable, write “fragile.” But don’t treat your package as a canvas for your inner artist to doodle all over. Make it clean for postal workers to read quickly.
• Non-lithium batteries should be left in original packaging. Do not put them in devices like toys before mailing. A device could turn on in transit, causing a security concern. Batteries in any item should be removed and sent separately.
• Consider media mail. It’s inexpensive, but there are restrictions. It’s limited to books, sound recordings (CDs, DVDs), manuscripts and play scripts, printed music, some films, loose-leaf pages and binders with medical information and more. Advertising and comic books are not allowed. Check online for complete list.
• If tape is on a box, make sure its adhesive sticks completely. A tape strand sticking out can be ripped off and damage a label or box.
• Wrap items separately. Don’t lump them together unprotected. This is why bubble wrap exists. (A brewery once sent me a six-pack of beer bottles in a wooden box with no wrapping. Seriously. The miracle is only three broke in transit.)
• Never use brown paper to wrap a box. Labels can be torn, paper can rip. And no string, rope, cord or twine, which can interfere with postal machinery. These are old-fashioned things you might see in the movies, but they are not practical.
• Always wrap glass separately, no matter how large or small the item. That picture of Uncle Rupert you love should be packaged separately from the frame.
• Write neatly or print labels with clean fonts, nothing fancy. This is a package, not a wedding invitation. No Zapf Chancery font.
• Remove previous labels from the mailing box. Black out any notations on the box with magic marker: Cross out names, addresses and UPC codes.
• Do not write “to” and “from” all over your box. Use one side only.
• Edit your label. Did you leave off a zip code, a return address, or apartment or suite number?
• Know zip codes. Look them up here. If you know the +4 code, use it. No zip is better than a wrong zip. (Cleveland alone has 58 zip codes.)
• If you are using self-serve USPS kiosks, make extra sure the address is correct. A clerk will look, but at the kiosk it’s on you.
• Consider Click-N-Ship to pay for and print postage at home. You leave the package for your carrier and don’t have to leave the house. With Covid concerns and weather, it’s not a bad option. Note: 70-pound box limits.
If you are going to be out and are anticipating packages, you have the option of going to your local Post Office and putting a hold on your mail. It’s a free service, Dhalai said. If you are fearful of porch piracy and have a package of value coming you can use an added security feature called Signature Confirmation, where someone is required to sign for it, she said. If you are not there it will be returned to the Post Office.
The U.S. Postal Service put out a promotional flier recently stating, “We don’t come down chimneys. But we make more holiday deliveries to homes than anyone else.” Well, except for Santa, that is. And if you want to write the jolly fella, this year’s deadline to receive a USPS North Pole postmark is to mail by Friday, Dec. 10.
• Have the child write to Santa. Put the note in an envelope addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole.
• Without the little one noticing, write a personalized response to the letter. Sign it “From Santa.”
• Insert both letters into an envelope addressed to the child.
• Add the return address: Santa, North Pole, to the envelope.
• Affix First Class Mail stamp to the envelope.
• Place the complete envelope into a larger envelope, with appropriate postage. Send to North Pole Postmark, Postmaster, 4141 Postmark Dr., Anchorage AK 99530-9998.
• Santa-letter tips: Write Santa’s response on the back of your child’s letter so your child can recall what he or she wrote. When responding as Santa, make the note personal: Highlight your child’s recent accomplishments, activity participation and so forth. And remember: Disguise your handwriting.
USPS’ Operation Santa program offers a chance for individuals and organizations to adopt letters to Santa and send gifts in Santa’s place. Deadline to postmark a letter for the program is Friday, Dec. 10. Want to learn more about Operation Santa? Here’s a movie about the program.
• Before heading out to mail a package or letter, remember a mask. Keeping one in the car helps.
• If you haven’t thought about holiday shopping, do so soon, and don’t push deadlines. With supply-chain issues a continuing residual effect of the coronavirus pandemic, the earlier the better.
• You can digitally preview your mail through Informed Delivery.
• If you are having a bad day, lines are long, coffee is spilled – don’t take it out on the postal worker serving you at their busiest time of the year. Smile and wish them a Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy Chanukah – whatever.
I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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