En español | If you want your holiday greeting card or first-class letter to arrive before Christmas, be sure to drop it in the mail a week beforehand — by Dec. 18, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) says.
"Every year we always advise to ship early,” says Kimberly Frum, a USPS senior public relations representative whose guidance is more critical for overseas military mail.
The peak season for holiday mail runs from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, Frum says, with the two weeks before Christmas expected to be the busiest. Traffic is forecast to pick up the week of Dec. 7, with the most hectic stretch from Dec. 14 to 21.
USPS holiday shipping deadlines
Below are the dates recommended by the USPS for “expected delivery” before Dec. 25. (Only in select locations are packages delivered — for an extra fee — on Christmas Day; consult your local post office for details.)
- Dec. 15 — USPS retail ground service, which is for packages, thick envelopes and tubes; though cheaper, the service takes longer than first-class mail.
- Dec. 18 — First-class mail service including greeting cards; also first-class packages of less than 1 pound
- Dec. 19 — Priority Mail service
- Dec. 23 — Priority Mail Express service, though the actual delivery date may vary depending on origin, destination and other factors. If the service is used Dec. 22–25, the money-back guarantee applies only if delivery was not attempted, or the shipment was not delivered, within two business days.
If you're shipping to Alaska from the continental U.S./from Alaska to the mainland:
- Dec. 18 — First-class mail
- Dec. 19 — Priority Mail
- Dec. 21 — Priority Mail Express
If you're shipping to Hawaii from continental U.S/from Hawaii to mainland:
- Dec. 15 — First-class mail and Priority Mail
- Dec. 21 — Priority Mail Express
If you're sending military and diplomatic mail overseas:
- Dec. 9 — APO/FPO/DPO for zip code 093 using Priority Mail or first-class mail
- Dec. 11 — APO/FPO/DPO for all other zip codes using Priority Mail or first-class mail
- Dec. 18 — APO/FPO/DPO except for zip code 093 using Priority Mail Express
APO stands for Army Post Office and is used for Army or Air Force installations; FPO means Fleet Post Office and is used for Navy installations and ships; and DPO means Diplomatic Post Office and is used for U.S. embassies overseas.
More holiday shipping tips from USPS
After Thanksgiving, USPS plans to expand Sunday deliveries to locations with a heavy volume of packages, a practice ongoing in most major cities during the holidays, Frum says.
If you're shipping gifts, don't overpack boxes, advises the postal service. Items should fit easily within a box without bulging out of the sides or ripping the seams of the box. If you can't fit it all in one box, use a bigger box or send multiple shipments.
Avoiding the post office due to coronavirus concerns? If you don't want to make the trek, USPS suggests going online to use the Click-N-Ship service to order free Priority Mail boxes, print shipping labels, purchase postage and request free, next-day package pickup. It's expected that nearly 500,000 consumers will use Click-N-Ship on Monday, Dec. 14.
FedEx holiday shipping deadlines
FedEx is girding for a peak period “on top of a peak,” spokeswoman Rae Lyn Rushing says. “With the onset of COVID-19, we have been operating at peak levels since March and there is no sign of slowing down."
Her advice: “We strongly encourage everyone who plans to do their holiday shopping online to shop and ship early."
Here are the FedEx holiday shipping dates for scheduled delivery by Dec. 25:
- Dec. 9 — FedEx SmartPost
- Dec. 15 — FedEx Home Delivery and Fed Ex Ground
- Dec. 21 — FedEx Express Saver and FedEx 3Day Freight
- Dec. 22 — FedEx 2Day, FedEx 2Day A.M. and FedEx 2Day Freight
- Dec. 23 — FedEx 1Day Freight, FedEx Extra Hours and FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight and FedEx First Overnight
- Dec. 25 — FedEx SameDay, FedEx SameDay City Priority and FedEx SameDay City Direct
More information is online at fedex.com/holiday. Take a look, especially if you are shipping to Puerto Rico or a foreign country.
UPS holiday shipping deadlines
Likewise, the recommendation at UPS is for consumers to ship gifts “earlier, rather than later, to beat the holiday rush,” as UPS spokeswoman Dawn Wotapka put it.
Here's the UPS holiday schedule for delivery by Dec. 24, since only Express Critical shipments are delivered on Christmas Day:
- Dec. 15 — UPS Ground
- Dec. 21 — UPS 3 Day Select
- Dec. 22 — UPS 2 Day Air
- Dec. 23 — UPS Next Day Air
More information is online. Take a look if you are shipping to a foreign country. If you are shipping by UPS Ground, note there are variables including points of origin and destination.
Want a Letter With a North Pole Postmark? Act by Dec. 7
A child writing to “Santa Claus, North Pole” could get a reply from Jolly Old St. Nick with a North Pole postmark — with a wee bit of help from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other caregivers. It’s a fun activity for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Here’s how it works:
1. Have the child write a letter to Santa. Place it in an envelope addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole.
2. Now take pen in hand and pretend you’re one of Santa’s helpers. Write a personalized reply to the child — you can even use the back of the child’s letter — and sign it, “From Santa.” The USPS recommends making the reply as personal as possible by highlighting the child’s accomplishments (for example, helping around the house, receiving good grades in a certain subject or participating in community service).
3. Insert both letters in an envelope addressed to the child with a return address of “Santa Claus, North Pole.” Use a first-class stamp on the envelope destined for the child.
4. Place the completed envelope into a larger one, add the appropriate postage and address it to:
North Pole Postmark
4141 Postmark Dr.
Anchorage, AK 99530-9998
Santa’s helpers in Anchorage will take care of the rest, the USPS says. But remember, drop it in the mail by Dec. 7 so it gets to Anchorage no later than Dec. 14. And if you want to share the experience on social media, USPS suggests you use the hashtag #GreetingsFromTheNorthPole.