Err on the earlier side—this is not a typical year.
woman holding stack of letters fanned out
Credit: Getty / Isabel Pavia

After all the time—and money—you spend perfecting your annual holiday card, nothing turns it from treasure to trash faster than having it arrive too late. Guarantee an on-time delivery (especially this year) with these ordering and mailing timeline tips from experts at Artifact Uprising, Minted, and The Idea Emporium.

When Your Cards Should Arrive

While you won't find specific rules about the right or wrong time for cards to arrive, the goal is to get them into mailboxes during the holiday season, but before the last-minute rush. "There is a 'sweet spot' for every sentiment," says Carey Galliani of The Idea Emporium. In general, you want your cards to reach your friends and family one to two weeks before the holiday they reference. "Cards of gratitude and reflection are ideal for the last week of November and first few days of December, making them a good choice for those early birds who wish to send their greetings ASAP," says Galliani. "New Year wishes are ideal to arrive the last two weeks of December through the first week of January. 'Season's Greetings' are a welcome message any time in the month of December, making them certainly the most flexible option of the bunch."

But it's never really too soon to have your cards delivered—especially this season, says Emily Dubin, senior director of innovation at Artifact Uprising. "For those craving connection with friends and family after what's been a challenging year," she says, "holiday cards arriving early sounds like a good problem to have."

When to Mail Your Cards

During most of the year, domestic mail takes between one and three days to reach its recipient, says Galliani, with the holiday rush increasing that time to three to five days. "However, this is not a typical year, and mailing in the time of a pandemic is a little different than normal, so it's a safe bet to expect delays," she says; she recommends leaving at least four to seven days for U.S. mail. If your address list includes long-distance relatives, allow closer to two weeks. "Out-of-state and international mail does take longer to arrive. So, do plan for additional shipping time for your friends and family who don't live in your state, says Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted. Other demands on the postal service this year could also contribute to longer-than-usual delivery times. "To avoid putting too much strain on the USPS with Election Day and increased holiday packages, we recommend mailing cards out as early as possible," says Dubin. "Early to mid-October is totally acceptable this year."

When to Order Your Cards

Once you have a targeted mail-by date in mind, order your cards with enough time for the retailer to print, package, and ship them to you, and for you to address and stamp them. "If you want to go the most budget-friendly route, we recommend giving yourself three weeks to design, print, and ship," says Dubin. If you opt for a completely one-of-a-kind card from an independent designer or stationery shop, though, you can begin that process even in late summer or early fall. "For a fully custom creation from an independent designer, start now," says Galliani. "Truly, there is no such thing as 'too early' when it comes to starting custom work."

When to Start Designing Your Cards

For some, choosing a flawless photo ends up the most time-consuming part of the process—but you can lower your design time by expanding your idea of "perfect." "We all want our cards to be impactful, beautiful, and memorable," says Naficy. "The biggest roadblock for families is often trying to capture that picture-perfect photo with everyone grinning from ear to ear. We recommend embracing the imperfections; not everyone needs to be looking directly at the camera and smiling." Dubin agrees: "As far as choosing your photo goes, at Artifact, we are big fans of photos that catch moments of imperfection, candid laughs, and playful outtakes," she says. "You can spend hours scrolling through your photo roll for that just-right shot and adding the right filters to make it perfect, but remember, just keeping things simple with a candid photo and heartfelt message to your loved ones will make their day."


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