Survive the season
Published: Saturday, December 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2007 at 9:21 p.m.
Things to do, people to see, shopping to be done, presents to wrap, reservations to be made, things to mail ... you get the point. It's the holiday season, and you're up to your elbows in to-do lists, not to mention trying to maintain your normal day-to-day schedule. With the stress of trying to get through the holidays in one piece, here is a quick how-to guide for surviving deadlines and the madness that is the end of the year.
Sending domestic mail
On any given day in the United States, there are 82 million first-class cards and letters processed, said Jason Knott, customer relations coordinator at the U.S. Postal Service's General Mail Facility on SW 34th Street.
During the holiday season, that number more than triples to 275 million pieces. Here are deadlines for mail to arrive by Christmas Day.
Domestic mail, Dec. 15
First class and priority, Dec. 20
Express mail, Dec. 22 (yes, that's a Saturday, but the USPS guarantees it's there by or on Christmas day, Knott said.)
Sending mail to troops
The U.S. Postal Service will process 20 million pounds of mail over the holidays for overseas military installations, Knott said.
Here are deadlines for packages to arrive by Christmas Day.
War zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dec. 4. They will be sent out as first-class priority mail to expedite the process.
Non-war zones, Dec. 11 for priority and first-class mail
Non-war zones, Dec. 18 for express mail
A representative from the post office behind The Swamp Restaurant on University Aveue said about 200 packages were mailed overseas Nov. 26 and it gets busier as the holiday approaches, so get those packages in as soon as possible.
When mailing care packages to troops overseas, it is important to follow the Department of Defense guidelines so they won't be returned to you. Here are some guidelines and tips from USPS:
Use the full name of a service member.
Include the unit and APO/FPO (Air/Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office) address with the nine-digit ZIP code (if one is assigned).
Include a return address, and print on one side of the package only.
Use a strong box with room for bubble wrap or Styrofoam cushioning. These packages go through heavy duty inspection, high temperatures and extreme environments - you want to make sure they arrive in good shape.
Battery-powered items may sometimes get turned on during shipment. It is recommended you remove and wrap the batteries separately.
Tape the opening of the box and reinforce all sides with 2-inch-wide tape. Use clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape. Don't use cord, string or twine.
Include a card inside describing the contents, and list the sender's and recipient's addresses.
For a full list of mailing restrictions and tips, visit http://www.usps.com/supportingourtroops/welcome.htm
Sending mail to Santa
Large white mailboxes sit outside the Gainesville post offices specifically for letters to be sent to Santa Claus at the North Pole. Each and every hand-written (or typed) letter to Santa will be replied to. Knott said the postal elves have been receiving letters since October and recommends getting letters in as soon as possible.
And although hand-written letters to Santa Claus will always be welcome, Santa jumped on the bandwagon and has been digital for a few years now. Visit the Web site www.emailsanta.com, where children can send an e-mail to Santa by typing onto a template, with an option to add a personal message at the bottom. A response immediately appears when you submit the letter, and kids get the satisfaction of knowing Santa has already read their letter.
Santa visits and photo ops
The Oaks Mall: Nov. 17-Dec. 24 in front of Belk's.
Both Wal-Marts on Archer Road and NW 13th St.: Today, Sunday, and Dec. 8-9 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
The Millhopper Branch Library: at 3145 NW 43rd St. - Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Traveling for the holidays
When it comes to air travel, "If you haven't booked, book now," says Michelle Danisovszky, Gainesville Regional Airport spokesperson. She said traveling over the holidays is "pretty well dispersed," but to avoid heavy traffic, she advises not flying the week of Christmas and the days immediately following.
Danisovszky said to save time, consider carrying on all of your luggage and not checking any bags. But she warned there are security procedures in place you need to be aware of, especially for carry-ons.
3-1-1 rule for liquids and gels: 3 ounce (or smaller) bottles in a 1-quart plastic, zip-top bag. Only one bag per person.
If you're bringing presents onboard: don't wrap them before the flight. They are subject to search and may need to be unwrapped.
Arrive at least one hour: before your flight departs.
Traveling by bus - Greyhound, Miami Bus Service or GMG (Gainesville-Miami-Gainesville) - is just as busy. Buy your tickets as soon as possible.
You can purchase Greyhound tickets via phone or online at http://www.greyhound.com/home/TicketCenter/Step1.asp.
To see GMG special holiday trips, visit http://www.gmgtrans.com/SpecialTrips.html. You can buy tickets in person at the Reitz Union Talking Walls Shop, Monday through Wednesday from 2-6 p.m. or on Thursday from 3-6 p.m.
For the Miami Bus Service, you can buy tickets online by visiting http://www.miamibusservice.com/DeployMBS/Reservations.aspx, by phone, by mail, or in person at Ben & Jerry's at 1638 W. University Avenue from 4-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Do's and don'ts of gift giving
Avoid being the giver of "that gift" - you know, the token bad gift that gets talked about the rest of the year. Here are some Secret Santa and White Elephant tips.
Do: Gift cards are ideal and safe, especially if the name you've drawn is not well known to you. Gift cards in any amounts for shopping giants - Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot - work best, and they allow your recipient to choose exactly what they want. Take into consideration the gender of your recipient.
Don't: Alcohol, clothes and jewelry are a big no-no unless you know the recipient on a very personal level. Don't risk presenting a recovering alcoholic with a bottle of wine or someone who is repulsed by the thought of silver jewelry with a pair of stainless steel silver stud earrings.
Do: Chocolate and baked goods are usually a hit with everyone. Make sure to find out if your recipient is allergic to anything sweet.
Don't: Re-gift. It's tacky and usually very obvious. Chances are if you didn't want it, neither will your recipient.
Dates to remember
Tuesday, Dec. 4:
First night of Hanukkah
Tuesday, Dec. 25: Christmas Day
Wednesday, Dec. 26: First day of Kwanzaa
Monday, Dec. 31: New Year's Eve
Food banks and charities
There are always opportunities to donate to and volunteer. Here are some suggestions.
Bread of the Mighty Food Bank: 325 NW 10th Ave. This food bank is a non-profit organization that gathers and distributes food and basic essentials to non-profit programs that provide for the needy. www.breadofthemighty.org, 336-0839
St. Francis House, Inc. Homeless Shelter and Soup Kitchen: 413 S. Main St. It provides emergency food, temporary shelter and related support services in a safe, secure environment for people in Alachua County who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless and hungry. http://www.stfrancishousegnv.org, 378-9079
The Salvation Army: 639 E. University Avenue. It just does a little bit of everything. http://www.salvationarmygainesville.com, 376-1743
Classic holiday TV shows and movies:
After all that hard work, you deserve some down-time. Here are some of the popular classics (and modern flicks, too) you can watch.
"Frosty's Winter Wonderland": Tonight at 7 p.m. on ABC Family
"Radio City Music Hall's 75th Anniversary Special": Tonight at 8 p.m. on WESH 2 (NBC)
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer": Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS
"Santa Claus is Comin' To Town": Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC; Friday at 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC Family
"Frosty the Snow Man": Friday at 8 p.m. on CBS
"New Year's Rockin' Eve": Dec. 31 at 10 p.m. on ABC
Movies on TV:
"The Santa Clause": 10 p.m. tonight and Sunday at 6 p.m. on TBS
"Elf": Sunday at 4:30 p.m., Monday at 2 p.m., Tuesday at 10 p.m. and Friday at 7 p.m. on USA
"The Hebrew Hammer": Tuesday at 5 p.m. and Wednesday at 8 a.m. on Comedy Central
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (animated): Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. on Cartoon Network
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation": Thursday at 9 p.m. on TBS
"The Polar Express": Friday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Dec. 8 at 4:30 p.m. on ABC Family
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (movie): Dec. 8 at 9 p.m. on ABC
"Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights": Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. and Dec. 9 at 11 a.m. on Comedy Central
"Fred Claus": Playing at Regal Cinemas Gainesville 14 (behind Butler Plaza)
"This Christmas": Playing at Regal Cinemas Gainesville 14
"The Perfect Holiday": opening day Dec. 12
Make reservations for New Year's Eve celebrations around town now. Venues are being booked and reserved already.
Save receipts from all purchases, and ask for gift receipts for presents (they shouldn't have prices or values). With a gift receipt, recipients can return or exchange the present with less hassle. Most department stores also accept returns within 30 days of the purchase, and although refunds may not always be available, store credit often is.
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