There are so many ways of making sure your festive greetings are delivered before the reindeer land and Santa squeezes his way down your chimney.

This is a good job as according to Royal Mail, the UK public bought over a billion Christmas cards in 2015 at a value of £374.6 million-that’s a lot of deliveries.

A far bigger business than when Post Office worker Sir Henry Cole invented the Christmas card in the 1840s. He only produced 1,000 cards, then considered a luxury item, for a shilling each. One of them is now the most valuable card in the world, sold at auction having fetched £20,000 in November 2000.

Back in the 1840s you could send a card by the ‘penny post’ with six to 12 deliveries a day. In Victorian times you could even get a delivery on Christmas morning.

Not the case now. Here’s the low down on how to beat the Christmas clock.

Royal Mail

The old favourite of over 500 years.

They take big strides to make sure the service is primed and ready for the busiest time of year. That involves recruiting around 19,000 seasonal workers to cope with the volume.

There are no deliveries or collections on Christmas Eve. If you miss the boat it’ll be Wednesday 27th December before your post arrives at its destination.

These are the recommended posting dates for the Royal Mail’s UK service:

  • 2nd Class mail (56p) you should post by Wednesday 20th December. Same goes for 2nd Class Signed For as it takes just as long to get there. Costs more though, upwards of £1.66.
  • 1st Class mail (65p) you should post by Thursday 21st December. Again, same for 1st Class Signed For (from £1.75)
  • Special Delivery, which guarantees next day delivery – make sure you take this to your post office by Thursday 21st December. There’s an additional cost which depends on the weight of your item but a standard Christmas card would be the minimum £6.45.
  • Special Delivery guaranteed for Saturday 23rd December, drop this into your Post Office by Friday 22nd December. Costs from £10.74.

Royal Mail can't send your item if it's too big. If it is larger than 61cm x 46cm x 46cm, or heavier than 20kg, you’ll need to use a courier (see below for their posting dates).

As you’d expect, if you need to send something abroad the deadlines are shortened. Even this blog is too late for the cheaper International Economy option. It’s Airmail or International Tracking only in December:

  • It’s too late for Africa, Middle East, Far East, Caribbean, Central and South America, most of Eastern Europe, Cyprus and Malta.
  • Mailing to Greece and Turkey takes as long as Australia and New Zealand! You’ll be cutting it fine but Saturday 9th December is still good to send from your Post Office to these four countries
  • Czech Republic, Italy, Poland and German need a little extra time – Wednesday 13th December
  • Finland, Sweden, our commonwealth friends Canada and the good ol’ USA! USA! USA! – get it posted by Thursday 14th December
  • Friday 15th December is your latest date for sending to Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland
  • Last chance for Belgium, France, Ireland and Luxembourg is Saturday 16th December

Prices vary depending on country, weight, size etc. and if you're sending anything of value it’s wise to pay for Tracked & Signed which costs from £6.

There are plenty of other restrictions. To find out more about these and the costs involved use the Royal Mail Price finder.

Last, but not least, our boys abroad. British Forces Post Office deliveries to operational units cant be guaranteed now as their recommended posting date was 27th November. But if you want to send post to static sites such as barracks in Germany then there’s still time – Monday 11th December.

Couriers

Unless you’re desperate (or your Mum will be very upset if she doesn’t get one this year) it’s not cost effective to send a Christmas card by courier.

It’s a great way to send parcels, though, as shown by the number of retailers who use couriers.

Here’s a brief outline of their deadlines. You can click each one to find out more:

  • Parcelforce: they “…recommend that you dispatch your parcel by Thursday 21st December 2017 for next-day services, and Wednesday 20th December 2017 for two-day services.

Find full details and international positing dates by clicking here. You can have your parcel collected from your home or work address, drop it off at your local post office or drop off at one of their 54 depots.

  • Collect+ : “….a refreshingly different parcel service that allows you to send and collect parcels wherever and whenever you want to, early ‘til late, seven days a week.”

Friday 15th December is their cut off for economy delivery (3-5 working days) and Tuesday 19th December for standard delivery (2 working days).

  • DHL : International courier with a last UK posting date of Thursday 21st December, 20th December for Europe, 18th December rest of the world.

Online shopping

Most of the big retailers offer a same day or next day delivery service, if you’re prepared to pay a premium. Here are some of the most popular ones to give you an idea:

  • Curry’s PC World do a same day service if you order before 1pm Christmas Eve for small items, 8pm Saturday 23rd December if you’ve bought a big screen TV!
    · Boots offer next day delivery up to Saturday 23rd December, cheaper standard delivery is available up to Tuesday 12th December
  • Argos can deliver on their same delivery if you order by 1pm on Christmas Eve
  • Amazon can get your gift to the recipient in time if you order by 11.59pm on Thursday 21st December using standard delivery. Order on One day delivery, which costs £5.99, as late as Saturday 23rd December.
  • Funky Pigeon and Moonpig are only as good as the Royal Mail allows but they do say that your card will hit the post same day if you order by 7pm (Moonpig) or 2pm (Funky Pigeon)

The festive period can be a very busy and stressful time if you leave it all to the last minute. So the consensus is that we should all be planning well ahead and getting those cards and parcels sent as soon as possible.

If you are stuck, though, there’s always an environmentally friendly e-card