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Moving Mountains Of Holiday Mail

The U.S. Postal Service expects to handle 20 billion pieces of holiday mail this year — about the same as last year — during a shopping window that's six days shorter.

As a result, the USPS announced Monday many of its post offices will stay open later and be open on Sunday.

The Postal Service often advertises that it is the only package service that delivers on weekends and holidays, including Christmas, when its Express Mail carriers sometimes wear Santa costumes.

The government-owned company expects its busiest mailing day to be Monday Dec. 16, and its busiest delivery day Dec. 18.

That's because most Americans spend the weekend prior to Christmas week addressing their greeting cards.

On an average day, the USPS handles about 665 million pieces of mail, spokesman Mark Saunders told If laid end to end, the mail would stretch about 100,000 miles, or four times around the earth. On the busiest days, the mail volume is equivalent to an extra lap around the globe.

"Ten percent of our volume will come in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas," Saunders said. The projected revenue for that period is $5.9 billion.

The Postal Service said it has printed 2.85 billion holiday stamps, this year including a Madonna and Child painting by Netherlandish Renaissance artist Jan Gossaert and four snowmen.

In addition to 38,000 post offices, stamps are also being sold at more than 60,000 drug stores and supermarkets, and at 17,000 ATMs. Stamps can also be ordered by telephone (1-800-STAMP-24) or on the Internet at

While the USPS normally uses 15,000 of the 56,000 available commercial passenger flights each day, plus Federal Express' air cargo fleet, in the two weeks prior to Christmas it will use an additional 44 airplanes just to move the mail.

It also employees the nation's largest civilian fleet of 210,000 vehicles, plus trains and outside trucking firms.

Yet the Postal Service says it does not plan to add much temporary help this year, "due to advances in mail processing technology."

Neatness counts in addressing holiday mail, but so does accuracy.

"If you don't know a ZIP code, don't guess," warned Saunders. "When was the last time you got the right person at the wrong telephone number?"

The USPS also has a ZIP code locator on its Web site, at and rate calculators for both domestic and foreign mail.

He also advised that if using an old box to mail a gift, make sure the old address is completely covered, including the various bar codes that may have been applied in its last transit.

Other packaging tips:

  • Select a box that's strong enough to protect the contents. Leave space for cushioning inside the carton.
  • Cushion the contents of the package.
  • The only addresses on packages for mailing should be the delivery and return addresses.
  • Remove batteries from toys. Wrap and place them next to the toys in the mailing box.
  • Packages that weigh at least one pound must be taken into the post office for mailing.
  • The USPS also sells packaging materials at its post offices, and provides such materials for Express Mail and Priority Mail free of charge.
Also, said Saunders, put an index card inside the package describing the contents along with the sender's and recipient's addresses.

By Lloyd A. de Vries