If you have cards or gifts to mail, here are the U.S. Postal Service's suggested mail-by dates for expected delivery before Dec. 25 in the contiguous United States (excludes Alaska and Hawaii).
* Dec. 14: USPS Retail Ground (commonly used for gifts)
* Dec. 20: First-class mail
* Dec. 21: Priority Mail (choice of arrival in one, two or three business days)
* Dec. 23: Priority Mail Express (overnight delivery)
Starting Dec. 2 through the end of the year, all first-class stamps will be postmarked with the national postmark, a wreath with the message "Happy Holidays," according to usps.com/holidaynews.
With a little extra effort, you can have your Christmas cards postmarked at North Pole Station. The North Pole postmark includes an image of Santa Claus, with the message: Season's Greetings / North Pole Station / North Pole, AK 99705.
Here's what to do:
* Personalize your greeting cards as usual.
* Address the envelopes.
* Put a holiday stamp on each envelope.
* Put all of the envelopes in a larger envelope (the USPS recommends a Priority Mail box).
* Put postage on the larger envelope or box.
* Mail before Dec. 9 to:
North Pole Postmark
4141 Postmark Drive
Anchorage, AK 99530-9998
The early date allows for sufficient time for the cards to be postmarked, remailed and delivered.
Although there are other locales with Christmas-themed names, Kim Frum, senior public relations representative with the U.S. Postal Service, says "the decision to participate is made locally" and "some locations have decided to no longer provide the special postmark."
You can find a list of "Post Offices With Christmas Names" from 2013, the most recent available, at https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/christmas-post-office-names.pdf. Then you can contact the postmaster directly to see if the service is provided in, say, Christmas, Florida; Joy, Illinois; or any of the other 87 places on the list.
Among the holiday stamps available this year are a quartet of wreaths designed by former White House chief floral designer Laura Dowling.
"The wreath has played an enduring role in our holiday traditions — and with the Postal Service," Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said at their October unveiling. "The very first holiday postage stamp featured a wreath."
Inspired by early American wreath designs, the 2019 stamps are meant to be "classic yet contemporary and evoke a sense of warmth and welcome."
The solid green wreath is inspired by French floral art. Its made of aspidistra leaves, folded and manipulated to resemble ribbons.
Gilded pine cones and magnolia pods grace the wreath trimmed with cranberry red ribbon.
Red and gold ribbon adorns the wreath made from gilded dried hydrangea, eucalyptus and nandina foliage, red berries and small ornaments.
The woodland bush ivy and red winterberry wreath presents a classic red and green palette.
The wreath stamps are being issued in booklets of 20 first-class forever stamps.
The Postal Service also this year introduced a set of Winter Berries stamps, depicting four vibrant winter botanicals: the winterberry, the juniper berry, the beautyberry and the soapberry.
Other stamps depict religious iconography and holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Customers may purchase stamps and other philatelic products through The Postal Store at usps.com/shop, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), by mail through USA Philatelic or at post offices nationwide.
ADVICE FROM AN EXPERT
The Greeting Card Association estimates that 1.6 billion Christmas cards are purchased each year. Lesley Miller is responsible for about 60 of those.
"I send them to family and friends. It's one of my favorite things about the holidays," says the Chattanooga wife and mother.
She orders her cards from Shutterfly, an internet-based image publishing service, using a holiday-themed photograph of her two children made by a friend who's a professional photographer.
By the time she returned from her Thanksgiving travels, Miller, a North Carolina native, expected to find the Shutterfly package in her mailbox. By this time next week, she hopes to have each greeting card signed, sealed and delivered — or at least on their way to their intended recipients.
"I try to send mine at the beginning of the season," she says. "The closer it gets to Christmas, the crazier it gets."
Miller says that sending Christmas cards can seem almost quaint when friends and family are perpetually connected through social media.
"I remember growing up, you saw pictures of people once a year when you got the Christmas card. Now I see your kids six days a week [on social media]. I know what's going on in your life even if we don't talk on a regular basis. It's not the only time you hear from people anymore."
And yet ...
"Even with people that we see all the time, there's just something sweet about having that picture in your hand as opposed to on a screen," she says. "I have friends who do digital cards or newsletters or updates on social media. I'm old-fashioned. I like a card in my hand. It feels special and intentional."
Like many families, the Millers have a particular place where they display the cards they receive each Christmas. "We hang them on a wall downstairs," she says.
Going through the cards, especially those that include photos, reminds her of fond memories. "I'll think, 'That's my friend so and so.' Or 'I remember when we did XYZ.' Or 'I remember when we took that picture,'" she says. "I love the community and camaraderie and warmth of that."
The best thing about sending Christmas cards is that you're more likely to receive cards in return, Miller says.
"People do notice and appreciate it," she says. "It's worth it to take a little extra time. It's something so simple and really easy. People get excited when they see a card and not a bill."
If you'd like to start your own greeting card tradition, here are five techniques that Miller says work for her.
1. She starts early. Miller says she tries to get her cards addressed and in the mail by the first week of December. The process usually takes her a couple of hours. One year, she carved out some time while she waited on an oil change at the Subaru dealership. "I had everything with me — my address book, my pen."
Even with best intentions, life sometimes intervenes. "I've definitely gone late," she says. "If you want them there before Christmas, I recommend mailing by Dec. 20, especially if you're doing one giant drop."
2. She keeps an address book. "I keep an old-fashioned address book with a list of who I sent cards to last year," Miller says. She keeps the list updated with marriages, deaths and relocations. When she gets a chance to work on her cards, she goes through the book systematically, page by page.
3. She writes precisely. Miller gets extra credit for her practice of hand-lettering the recipient's address on each envelope. A former teacher who left the classroom to be a stay-at-home mom, she's found a way to "scratch the teaching itch" by leading classes in hand-lettering at Art Creations, The Chattery and other sites around town, as well as giving private and online lessons. You can see examples of her work at www.letteringwithlesley.com.
Participants in her classes often come in lamenting that their "handwriting's not very nice or not very neat," she says. She quickly dismisses those fears. "I think it really is a mental thing. For most people, it's not as bad as they think it is. Sometimes it's just slowing down for just a second."
And, she confesses, "My grocery store list is a Dumpster fire. I have grocery store writing and teacher writing and then my lettering. [Lettering] is definitely not my natural writing. But if I'm taking the time to order the cards, it doesn't take me that much longer. I try to add something to the outside."
4. She has a return-address shortcut. Miller spends a little extra time on each recipient's address, but her own comes courtesy of a customized ink stamp. Such devices are plentiful on the internet for less than $20. Or you can have address stickers printed for quick return labeling.
5. She checks the list twice and mails everything at once. The Millers have a far-flung circle of family and friends, so her ZIP codes hopscotch the map from Texas to California to New England to Florida. She hand-delivers a few to families in her children's play group. The rest go in the mail in a single bundle, rather than a few at a time.
"I like to go back through and make sure I hit everyone on the list and didn't send anyone two — that's happened," she laughs. "I just want to go through and make a final checklist, check them off in my little book, double-check the name and address and ZIP code."
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.