Dear Miss Card Etiquette,
Does proper etiquette exist for when to send a card out before an event? I sent an anniversary card to my in-laws about two weeks before their anniversary and they complained that the card came too early. We live very far away from each other so I thought it was necessary to send it early to insure that it would arrive on time. What is the proper etiquette? Thank you in advance.
It’s certainly better to have a card arrive early rather than late! I generally recommend sending cards within two weeks of the actual event date, so you certainly didn’t overstep the boundaries of good etiquette. In many cases, having a card arrive a little early can even make it more memorable, simply because it stands out from the rush of other cards.
In some cases (most notably, the Christmas season postal rush), I would even suggest that two weeks in advance be your minimum lead time for sending cards. For other holidays and personal events though, especially if you live very far away from the recipients, you don’t want the card to arrive so early that it looks like you’ve forgotten the date, which is why two weeks is a good maximum cut-off for early mailings. (Of course, you can also add a note on the envelope that says “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL [date],” so they know you remembered correctly.)
If you’d like to ensure your greetings arrive closer to their “target date” in the future, here are some general guidelines for letter mail delivery times: Outside of major holidays, most first class mail sent within the contiguous 48 US states will arrive at its destination within 3-4 days, even if you’re mailing from Florida to Washington state! If you’re mailing to Alaska, Hawaii or Canada, allow 2-3 days additional mailing time. Inter-continental airmail can often take a couple of weeks to recipients in heavily populated areas, and possibly longer to rural destinations.
In short, I don’t think you did anything wrong in this case. Most people will certainly not mind your card arriving early, but there are always those folks who can (and will!) find fault with everything. In the specific case of your in-laws, you may want to mail your greetings just a week in advance next time, just to avoid a hassle … because sometimes it’s best to remember: You can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family!
Best luck to you!