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'Mrs. Claus' and the art of holiday parcels with Canada Post

12/22/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 02/20/2015 05:59 EST
Got the holiday mailing blues?

Was that craft for great-grandma too big for a standard bubble mailer? Was the guy behind you in the long line rude when you tried to shove it in anyway and then had to look up the postal code?

Maybe it was the postage sticker shock when you learned sending that marble rolling pin to your sister-in-law in Alberta would cost more than you paid for it.

Seasonal shipping stories are legion in a big country like Canada. But here's a tale of a merry elf on the West Coast who could show us all a thing or two about sending like Santa while saving like Scrooge.

"Mrs. Claus" is a great-auntie to a great-niece and great-nephews at a couple of Ontario addresses. For each birthday and at Christmas, she wraps up individual brown paper parcels and sends them via Canada Post.

Expensive? Not at all.

Price of a stamp?

Two of this year's parcels were mailed with $1.80 stamps. A third was sent with three permanent domestic stamps, at a cost of $2.55.

None were standard sizes. The smallest was 27 x 34 centimetres while the largest was 29 x 35 centimetres. 

How is this possible? Two things are key: thickness and weight.

In order to send a small package by Canada Post Lettermail, instead of one of the parcel options, it must fit through a two-centimetre slot. All three of Mrs.Claus's flat packages fit — with a little squeeze.

Canada Post accepts Lettermail up to 500 grams.

These parcels weigh between 210 grams and 420 grams (they remain unopened until Dec. 25, but Mrs.Claus typically likes to send pyjamas, T-shirts or children's books).

Bending the rules?

That doesn't mean Mrs.Claus didn't need an elf on the inside.

After all three parcels were delivered, photos were sent to a Canada Post spokesperson. She noted that none had been properly postmarked.

Based on the posted Canada Post specifications, sending the parcels by Lettermail should have cost between $4.10 and $5.05 each.

CBC News took the largest parcel to a Canada Post outlet in Ottawa after it was successfully delivered. The opinion of the clerk at the counter matched the website's pricing for similarly oversized Lettermail.

If someone were inclined to be more stingy about sizing, each could have been sent as a parcel, at $13.67 for the cheapest and slowest option, based on the distance, weight and dimensions.

No wonder Mrs.Claus opts for Lettermail.

But how does she get away with the single stamps? Is it Christmas magic, or a bit too much egg nog in the quality control department of Canada Post?

Spokeswoman Anik Losier says optical readers weigh parcels in transit and if a parcel is missing postage, it's identified and returned.

"We expect everyone to pay proper postage for their mail. If anyone is unclear about the rates, they should visit their local post office. We have checks and balances to ensure postage is always properly paid," Losier wrote in an email to CBC News.

Shipping tips to save like Scrooge

We may not all get away with the kind of shipping magic Mrs.Claus pulls off. But here are a few tips if you too would like to reach for your change purse, not your credit card, when spoiling family members from afar:

- Choose lightweight gifts. The 500 gram Lettermail limit easily allows for thin books or small items of clothing or jewellery. If you are sending a parcel, the weight will be a major factor in its price. (Marble rolling pins are always a bad choice unless you're giving in person.)

- Use plain packaging. (Mrs. Claus just cuts open a paper grocery bag and fastens it with strong packing tape.) If your gift is not breakable, skip those big bubble mailers and boxes at the counter. They may add to the size and weight you're paying for.

- Lay gifts flat and separate them into small packages that fit into the 2-centimetre mail slot. Rolling that t-shirt into a ball? Welcome to parcel pricing. Instead, ship it flat, like you may have noticed online clothing retailers do. Several small, flat Lettermail items may be cheaper than putting family members' gifts together in one parcel.

- Start early. If you're shopping at the last minute and can't be late with the delivery, the cheaper mailing options might let you down.

- Shop online and send it directly. If you're buying a gift online, have the retailer ship it straight to your loved one. Don't we all need one less line to stand in at this time of year?

Canada Post's mailing deadlines

Holiday Cards via Lettermail:

- Local Delivery: December 19.

- Within Province: December 18.

- Outside Province: December 17.

Holiday Packages:

- Priority™ (Rush): December 23.

- Xpresspost™ (Fast): December 22.

- Regular Parcel™ (Most Economical): December 11.

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