If holiday packages are not mailed by today (Dec. 20), they probably will not arrive by Christmas, said Brookings Postmaster Bob Boicoff.

Express Mail is the only exception, Boicoff said. The service guarantees delivery of letters and packages by Christmas, as long as it is sent by Friday, he said.

The holiday season always produces long lines and a lot of grumbling at U.S. Post Offices.

It is also the busiest time of the year for postal employees, especially at the Brookings Post Office.

The volume of mail picks up significantly at the Brookings Post Office about two weeks before Christmas, Boicoff said.

Last week, the Brookings office processed 139,000 letters, magazines and catalogs, and 6,100 packages, he said.

Monday, Tuesday and Friday are typically the heaviest mailing days.

Contrary to popular belief, postal employees work 365 days a year. If Express Mail packages are received on Christmas Day, employees will attempt to deliver them, Boicoff said. Employees also attempt to deliver mail that has no name or address.

We go through a lot to locate people before sending it to the dead letter file, Boicoff said.

Employees look through the phone book, ask other stations such as the Harbor Post Office and go to the street address of the recipient and leave a note in an attempt to locate the person.

Polly Blank, an employee who works with the undeliverable letters, said a letter was received addressed to Grandma and Grandpa Mack, which were nicknames. The post office tracked down the owners of the letter.

Any kid good enough to send grandma and grandpa a package needed to have it get there, Blank said.

If the recipient cannot be located, the mail goes to the dead letter center in San Francisco where it is opened in an attempt to find the recipient. If the recipient cannot be found, the letter or parcel is held until someone puts a claim or inquiry in for it.

One of the biggest problems at the post office is not mail that cant be identified, but rather mail that is poorly packaged, Boicoff said.

He said that people often use boxes from stores or businesses that have writing on them or product descriptions. When the packages are taken to the airport, they may be refused because the product written on the box cannot be shipped even though what is inside the package is not what is written outside.

Boicoff recommended that boxes with writing on them be wrapped with plain brown paper.

Sometimes, problems can arise with what is on the inside, he said.

Last year, a Portland post office received a package that had mercury in it, he said. The mercury leaked out of its container and several employees got sick.

Customers often ship things that are legal to send, but are odd. Boicoff said someone sent several coconuts with little address labels attached and another person sent a rose with an address label attached.

In addition to interesting gifts, the holiday season brings a special kind of letter to the post office: Childrens letters to Santa Claus.

The post office accepts these letters and sends them to a Portland post office where they are answered by an employee. The Brookings Post Office has received two letters to Santa this year.

The post office receives two mail deliveries each morning at 7:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.. The mail truck leaves for the processing facility in Springfield at 3 p.m. Postal employees in Brookings have to process all the mail that is delivered in the morning, label the packages and process the outgoing mail by 3 p.m.

Boicoff said if people sent their packages two weeks prior to Christmas Day, it would give the post office a chance to clear its system and get everything delivered by Christmas Day.

Sending packages early also helps with delays caused by weather. Bad weather in various parts of the country can cause airplane delays. Mail can also be bumped from airplanes if they are too full with passengers and luggage, said Boicoff.

There are a few things people can do to help the post office get the mail to customers with minimal delay.

When ordering from a catalog, customers should give both their street address and P.O. Box address. They should also make sure their name is spelled correctly.

Boicoff also suggests that people pick up their mail in a timely fashion. He said many packages do not get picked up even after several notices have been left for the customer. Eventually, the package gets returned to the sender.

On any given Sunday, the post office in Brookings receives 16 to 30 feet of mail that must be processed by Monday with few employees to do it. It is a year-round job that never stops.