The day after Thanksgiving may be the busiest shopping day of the year, but for postal workers, it starts the busiest month of the year.
As packages begin to be mailed around the country and the world, local carriers gear up for the switch from letters to packages.
Craig Postmaster Dion Helmick is bracing for the steady build-up that will have his carriers working longer hours and carrying heavier loads.
"We hire temporary help called Christmas casuals by the post office," he said. "I was approved for one extra carrier just (Wednesday)."
The temporary position, which pays between $11 to $13 per hour, will end Dec. 31.
The busiest week for Craig carriers will be between Dec. 18 and 23, Helmick said.
"That Dec. 18 day is when people realize that it's one week until Christmas," he said. "And they all head for the post office on Monday morning."
In 2006, the Craig Post Office delivered 3,874 parcels the week before Christmas.
The volume of letters jumps 13,000 above the daily average, to nearly 65,000 when Christmas cards hit the local office.
Helmick said that local carriers deliver whatever comes into the Craig Post Office, no matter what.
"Whatever it takes, if it takes overtime, they do it," he said. "One reason I took this job was because of the employees here, the clerks and carriers."
In Glenwood Springs, where 33 associate post offices have mail sorted, the average of 6,000 to 7,000 parcels a night jumps to 35,000 for holiday delivery.
The Craig Post Office delivery area includes eight city-routes, and three routes that cover Maybell, Hamilton and a 90-mile rural route.
Highway contract routes are owned for four years after their bids are accepted by the post office.
On an average day, 12 carriers are delivering mail in Moffat County.
Helmick expects this year's rush to wind down by Dec. 21 or 22, because at that point it's too late to be mailing without using express mail.
"Express mail goes seven days a week," Helmick said. "We will deliver on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day."
He said that mail-carriers drive large enough vehicles to handle the increase in letters and parcels in December, although some parcel runs occur early in the morning, while the letters are being distributed to the correct routes.
The last day for normal mail delivery is Dec. 23.
Postal employees looking to spend holidays with family often need to work out plans for a one-day celebration.
"People usually are not allowed to take a week vacation in December," Helmick said. "Occasionally one- or two-day leaves are granted. Vacation during the third week in December doesn't usually occur."