Here’s How to Avoid Holiday Care Package Disasters

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The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year… unless you’re dealing with a deployment. Then they can easily be the most stressful, emotional, and frustrating time of the year. When John was deployed,  I was obsessed– I mean OBSESSED— with making sure that he didn’t feel forgotten or alone during Christmas. I sent an (embarrassing) number of care packages to him during the span of Halloween and New Year’s.

If you’re feeling the stress of holiday care packages already, don’t worry. I’ve got you. Here’s what you need to keep in mind (and what you don’t):

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1. Keep deadlines in mind

This is super important: deadlines are your friend. (Really!) The military–in conjunction with the US Postal Service–releases a list of dates that are the absolute deadlines to ensure that packages and mail will get to military addresses by Christmas. Of course, nothing is ever guaranteed with the military, so it is possible that something crazy might happen and your package might not make it on time, even when sending by the deadline. (Trust me! When John was deployed, this one letter I sent took six months to reach him… because it went to Cuba instead of Afghanistan!) But sending by the deadline makes a delivery by Christmas much, much more probable.

2. Pay attention to the rules

If you’re anything like I was, you want to cram as much holiday cheer into your care package as possible. You want to give your loved one the Christmas (or Hanukkah or New Year) one they’ll remember so they don’t feel like they’re missing out by being away. That’s very admirable… but remember that you still need to play by the rules. Some countries have restrictions on things like alcohol; if you’re sending to a country that does, obey the rules, even though you want them to have some happy juice for the holidays. Pay attention to the USPS’ and military’s rules and restrictions, too. If you don’t, your package might not get to your loved one.

3. Don’t go all out

It’s tempting to want to send super expensive packages filled with super expensive gifts. Consider your loved one’s situation. Can they bring the things you’re sending home? Does it make sense to send that really expensive pizza maker when they don’t have anywhere to plug it in? Do they have anywhere to even store that deluxe DVD-player-and-cappuccino-maker in their living situation? If you send things they can’t use or don’t want, it will be difficult (or impossible) for them to bring it home or return it, which will mean you’ve wasted a lot of money.

4. Think about an alternative celebration

Sending stocking stuffers and cheaper (or less emotionally charged) gifts may feel weird, but if you’re really into gift-giving and celebrating the holidays, you might want to table expensive or more personal gifts for a delayed holiday when your loved one gets back. Send a few things now, and then wait to give the good stuff when their boots are back home.

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5. Follow common sense

The holidays can make even the most logical person a little (or a lot) emotional, especially during a deployment. Make sure that you don’t let that cloud your judgment. These suggestions for regular care packages will help you keep your head on straight, even when you want to send a frozen turkey, Christmas cookies in grandma’s favorite antique tin, and a box of New Year’s fireworks. (Spoiler alert: Don’t do any of those things.)

6. Chill

You know how the Grinch can’t stop Christmas from coming? Even if your best-laid plans go sideways and your carefully decorated and packed care package goes ends up in Australia when it should have gone to Antarctica, even if customs destroys it by ripping through it and then throwing it back together, even if it doesn’t get there on time, the holidays will still happen for your loved one, too. And when they’re back home with you, you can string up some mistletoe–even if it’s July–play some holiday tunes, give some gifts, and have a Christmas you’ll remember. It’s going to be okay. Just breathe.

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