GREENFIELD — Gene Rieske of Greenfield learned years ago there is a method to successfully spreading Christmas cheer.

Each year, he mails more than 90 postcards, each one decorated with a Christmas theme, and 20 holiday cards to friends and family across the region. Writing a message to each recipient, addressing the card and affixing a stamp in the corner can only be done through an assembly line, and he’s been working on this year’s haul for weeks, he said.

Monday afternoon, with a roll of stamps in hand, he claimed a spot at a table in the Greenfield Post Office, 207 N. State St. Starting at the top of the pile, he plopped a holiday-themed stamp on each — the final step before he placed them in the mail.

So long as there are no mishaps, his holiday cards will get to his friends and family in time for Christmas.

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The deadline to mail holiday packages to ensure they arrive by Christmas is quickly approaching. Post office officials say presents and cards should be in the mail by the end of this week to ensure they reach their destination by Christmas Day.

Packages postmarked today should arrive ahead of Christmas Day without customers having to pay an additional fee, said Mary Dando, a post office spokeswoman.

Cards sent before Tuesday should also arrive by Christmas Day without an issue, she said.

The U.S. Postal Service expects to deliver some 16 billion cards, letters and packages this holiday season, officials said. Dec. 22 is expected to be the busiest day of the season, when nearly 30 million pieces of mail will be delivered across the country.

Thousands of those pieces of will be sent from Hancock County post offices, where local residents, like Rieske, are preparing for the holidays and looking to the post office to ensure presents make it to loved ones across the country.

Sending holiday postcards is a tradition Rieske began decades ago after watching his grandmother collect the colorful cards from all around the country throughout his childhood.

He spends a few days in early December scribbling out “Merry Christmas” in heavy black ink on each card. Then, he goes through the cards one by one to address them. Throughout the process, he keeps an eye on the post office’s shipping schedule so he knows exactly when his postcards need to be mailed.

This year, he didn’t buy enough stamps; that’s what brought him to the Greenfield post office Monday – just one of dozens of residents who came into the building that afternoon.

A steady stream of people visited the office throughout the day, though the line to pay for postage was never more than four people long, officials said.

An area in the back of the building where packages and letter are sorted and checked before being sent out, however, revealed just how hectic the days leading up to the holidays can be. Stacked packages waiting to be processed nearly reached the ceiling.

“It’s been busy,” Mike Johnson, postmaster of the Greenfield branch, said before dashing away to keep up with the day’s demands.

Post offices across the country are already seeing higher delivery volumes than in years past, Dando said.

Dec. 4, postal workers across the country handled 6.5 million packages — about 2 million more packages than on the same day last year. An average of 5 million packages have been processed each Sunday in December, and officials don’t expect that demand to slow as the final Sunday before Christmas approaches.

The postal service takes pride in helping its customers spread holiday cheer, Dando said. But she warned residents to be aware of items that can’t be mailed or require special postage, as the contents of packages are usually what delay delivery.

When customers drop packages off at the post office, they will be asked a series of questions to ensure the contents do not violate Department of Transportation hazmat standards, Dando said.

Items that pose a potential safety risk need to be handled with the utmost care, she said. But most people don’t realize their presents might be considered dangerous.

Most commonly, issues around the holiday arise when customers mail batteries, perfumes, e-cigarettes and alcohol, Dando said. If customers talk with post office employee about what their presents contain, the employee can ensure the package is handled properly and gets delivered on time.

A list of tips and recommendations can be found at usps.com.

Delivery schedule

To ensure presents are delivered by Christmas morning, keep to these mailing deadlines, officials say:

Today: Standard mail should be postmarked by today to ensure it arrives by Christmas without an additional fee. Mail headed to international destination, including Europe, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia should be sent today, as well.

Monday: Be wary of long lines. Monday is expected to be busiest mailing and shipping day of the holiday season.

Tuesday: All cards, letters and packages weighing less than 13 ounces and carrying traditional postage should arrive by Christmas if sent before the end of the day.

Wednesday: Packages and cards sent by priority mail, which ensures delivery within three business days, will arrive in time for Christmas if sent by the end of the day. Priority mail deliveries carry fees beginning at $6.45.

Dec. 22: Postal workers will be their busiest Dec. 22 when nearly 30 million pieces of mail are expected to be delivered.

Dec. 23: Presents send using priority mail express are guaranteed for overnight delivery. A fee of at least $22.95 ensure they’ll arrive by Christmas morning.

Source: U.S. Postal Service

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.