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image is from behind the post office window and features two clerks with the back to the camera facing a waiting crowd and packages all over the floor behind the clerks in the foreground.
Evening Star. December 19, 1923

Ready. Set. Mail! The Christmas Rush is On!

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With shopping for presents, holiday parties and travel, the Christmas season is a busy time for everyone. In all the rushing about, hopefully everyone has left enough time to mail what needs to be mailed, because Christmas is an especially BUSY time of year for the U.S. Postal Service.

images shows an center row of boxes filled with Christmas packages with men on either side sorting them to send them on their way
Post Office post package room Christmas rush on Van Buren Street in Chicago, 1929

This is not a new phenomenon. When I saw a few images of past Christmases at post offices including the one featured here, I wanted to know more about what bygone Christmases were like for the post office. Thankfully, an older copy of the USPS annual report provides a clue as to what the Christmas of 1917 looked like:

Especially remarkable showing is made in the handling of such Christmas parcels for the soldiers as fell to the jurisdiction of the Post Office Department. Ninety carloads of this Christmas mail were delivered to the headquarters of the various divisions on or before the morning of December 25, while four carloads from a transport belated by storm were completely delivered on the morning of December 27. In addition to the Christmas parcels sent through the United States mail, the Army undertook to send Christmas boxes, probably to the number of 200,000, these boxes being sent by mail to the port of embarkation, where the Army assumed full charge of them and the Post Office Department thereafter had no responsibility in their delivery, as they were received by the embarkation authorities in this country. (Annual Report of the Postmaster General, Fiscal Year ending June 1918, p.7)

Older copies of the Postal Guide, are good for a host of postal delivery statistics and operations. However, it is the November supplement that provides the most interesting window into how the Postal Service handled the Christmas season.  For example, the November 1939 supplement indicated that Mail Service on Christmas Day was limited to “gift parcels” but that those employees who would be doing the deliveries were to do it voluntarily. A few pages later there were even more details about “Organizing for Christmas” including the placement of placards and posters emphasizing how important it was for customers to mail Christmas items early.  They also talked about temporary seasonal hiring and were particularly interested in coordinating with relief agencies and Veterans organizations.

More recently, the busiest mailing day of the season seems to fall mid-December.  In 2015 they predicted that December 14 was going to be the busiest day. In total, this is what the Post Office expected for the Christmas season that year:

The Postal Service expects to deliver a total of approximately 15.5 billion cards, letters, flats, and packages during the 2015 holiday season. In addition, they are projecting approximately 600 million packages will be delivered between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, which is an increase of 10.5 percent over last year’s volume.

That is a lot to deliver. What they wrote for the 2011 Christmas season should provide an even better idea of what is actually behind those numbers:

236 number of years the U.S. Postal Service has been delivering holiday cheer.
16.5 billion number of cards, letters and packages to be delivered between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
2.7 billion number of letters mailed over the holidays.
801 million number of pieces of mail processed on Dec. 20, the busiest mailing day of the year.
551 million average number of pieces of mail processed daily.
589 million average number of pieces of mail processed daily during the holidays.
30 million in pounds, the amount of mail the Postal Service will process for overseas military installations, including war zones in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq.
155,000 number of vehicles used to transport holiday mail.
3.3 billion number of holiday stamps the postal service has available this year.
97 million number of customers who visit the post office during the holidays.
47.2 million number of customer visits to during the holidays.

With all of that to deliver, logistics is key. Imagine all the work and coordination it takes to move that amount of letters, cards, and packages, and doing it all in enough time.

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