Beating Santa to the tree

Mailing those words of warm tidings and cheer now will ensure they will beat the lickety-split speed of Santa’s sleigh and reindeer – but be prepared to encounter a bit of a line at the post office.

According to projections from the United States Post Office, today is expected to be the busiest mailing day of the year with an estimated six million customers lining up at post offices across the nation to send their holiday greetings and gifts on their way. Further, people can expect to receive those good tidings Wednesday, the biggest delivery day of the year for cards while the cheerfully wrapped gifts sent out should arrive Friday, the biggest day of delivery for packages.

“We’ve seen a 12 percent increase in mailings nationwide,” said Richard Watkins, a U.S. Post Office spokesman for the Des Moines Hawkeye District, the area in which Fort Dodge falls. “A lot of that can be attributed to online sales, but holiday greeting cards are still a strong component.”

Sending e-cards online is as simple as a click of the mouse and the tap of the return key, but despite the convenience and ease of sending messages electronically he said people are still opting for traditional cards to carry their heartfelt words to loved ones and friends.

“Christmas cards are still a traditional method to send a greeting and photos,” Watkins said. “It’s something you can put up on the refrigerator and place on the mantle. Printing out an email or e-card and taping it up on the mantle just isn’t the same thing.”

Cards are more durable and are more long-term mementos, he said. People can take them out years later and look at them again and again. Also, an emerging trend in the greeting card industry is personalized creations using family photos and candid shots, which make the end product even more meaningful for those sending and receiving them.

However, Watkins said, Yuletide renewal of relationships through letters and cards is not immune to the impact of immediacy and ease of communicating via the World Wide Web.

“We have seen a decline,” he said, “but not as much as regular First Class mail sent throughout the rest of the year. People are paying bills on-line, and emails are great for exchanging data, but for sharing memories and rekindling connections cards are what people chose to go with.”

To be sure those cards arrive in time for Christmas, people need to mail them by Friday, and if they want their gifts to be under the tree before Santa drops his off, people need to mail packages by Saturday. Those last minute shoppers, like Watkins, who admits to being a procrastinator, have until Dec. 23 if they ship using Priority Mail Express.

People seem to be on the ball, though, Watkins said, at least when it comes to mailing out their presents. He makes this assumption based on the number of boxes and items officials expect in the next few days. On a normal night, the Des Moines Network Distribution Center processes 150,000 packages, but today, typically the busiest mailing day of the year, the center is expected to process twice that many at 300,000 packages.

Additionally, people in three areas in Des Moines, as well as Mason City, Ankeny, Ames, Burlington and Dubuque got a few surprises waiting for them on their doorsteps yesterday when carriers were called in on their usual day off to deliver since the volume for those stations was so great.

The U.S. Post Office expects to process 545 million pieces of mail every day throughout the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Officials estimate this will total nearly 15 billion pieces. Not bad for an organization lacking in elven power and magical reindeer.