Make note of these important deadlines in November and December.

By Alexa Erickson
Updated November 10, 2020
Packing a gift box to send to family.
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Despite the pandemic's best efforts, the holidays are upon us. The mailing system has been inundated this year like never before, and this season will bring more of the same, which is why it's important to shop for and mail out your gifts promptly. After all, is there anything worse than learning that a special holiday gift you sent to a loved one arrived the day after Christmas? And picking out the perfect present is only half the work: You'll also need to plan ahead to ensure your gift reaches the intended recipient on time, too. Though Christmas falls at the end of December, mail carriers have cut-off deadlines that are established weeks beforehand—and they're even more pressing for Hanukkah, which is celebrated earlier this year. 

Nearly all of the leading mail services in the United States will share recommended shipping deadlines in the weeks leading up to the official start of the festive season. To ensure that your presents arrive at their destination intact and on time, we asked representatives from each major shipping service for the need-to-know mailing dates for 2020, including the United States Postal Service (USPS), FedEx, and the United Parcel Service (UPS). Keep in mind that online retailers may have their own deadlines for holiday delivery that should be made available to you before placing your order. 

To make sure you spread joy in time, you'll want to know exactly when to ship packages while the pandemic continues.

United States Postal Service

"Every year we urge customers to ship early, and that is especially important this year," says Kim Frum, senior public relations representative for the United States Postal Service. "Below are the recommended deadlines for expected delivery by December 25."

Since Hanukkah often begins before Christmas, most mail carriers are operating normally as this is not considered a federal holiday. It falls between December 10 and 18 this year, so you'll need to pay attention to the following deadlines if you want your gift to reach its destination on the first day of Hanukkah. If you plan ahead and can package your gift more than 10 days in advance of Christmas, you'll be able to take advantage of USPS's ground shipping options, which are often much more affordable than similar options with other carriers. According to Frum, the cut-off date for all customers wishing to have their gifts delivered by December 25 via ground shipping is December 15 (this includes domestic addresses anywhere in the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska).

USPS offers First-Class postage on packages weighing up to 16 ounces or greeting cards, and those need to be sent by December 18. If you miss the ground shipping date, then your next best bet is Priority Mail, which has a firm deadline of Saturday, December 19. Priority Mail packages are stored in standard boxes that are shipped at a flat-rate to zip codes across the country and you can load up to 70 pounds in a single box at the same rate.

Don't fret if you've waited until the very last minute to get a gift out to your loved ones; USPS offers a next-day shipping option with Priority Mail Express, which is more costly than other options, but it'll get your gift to its destination on Christmas Eve if you send it by December 23. Keep in mind that the USPS services all air, army, fleet, and diplomatic post offices abroad; you'll need to ground-ship your gifts by November 6, or send it by Priority or First-Class Mail by December 11 for on-time Christmas delivery. You can find all of USPS' shipping dates and options by checking the USPS' newsroom here


FedEx's full holiday shipping schedule is available here; notably, in some city markets, you can ship items on Christmas Day and have it delivered just a few hours later. Like USPS, you can choose to send items via ground transportation at a reduced rate, and gifts should be on trucks by Tuesday, December 15 in order to reach domestic locations by Christmas Day. If you're planning to send gifts to loved ones abroad in Canada, Mexico, or Puerto Rico, the carrier has guaranteed overnight delivery on gifts sent via FedEx International Priority Mail if they're sent by Monday, December 23. See more FedEx options and their holiday schedules here.

United Parcel Service

UPS retail locations operate on a limited schedule in the days leading up to Christmas Eve (and won't be delivering on Christmas Day) but customers can ship items around the world using their international services up to a week before Christmas arrives. While some ground packages need to be in transit as early as December 15, gifts can be flown internationally using UPS' Air packages by scheduling pickups through December 22—and the absolute last day for scheduled delivery on Christmas Eve for UPS packages is December 23. "The last days to ship to help ensure delivery on or before December 24 can be found on the year-end schedule," says Matthew O'Connor, senior manager of public relations for UPS.

Schedule a Package Pickup

During the pandemic, it's worth checking to see if your carrier offers package pickups to avoid long lines at shipping centers. In an effort to protect both employees as well as customers, the Postal Service offers free pickups. "The busiest time for the postal service starts two weeks before Christmas," says Frum. "Beginning the week of December 7, customer traffic is expected to increase, with the week of December 14 to 21 predicted to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery week. Customers pressed for time can schedule a free package pickup when the carrier delivers your mail. It's free regardless of the number of packages."


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