Cards are shown that Amy Calder tried to mail out for the holiday season, but they were returned because of their square shape. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Let me say right out of the gate that I apologize to any friends and relatives who receive a Christmas card from me that is either mangled or requires they pay extra postage.

You see, those cards are square, and apparently the U.S. Post Office doesn’t like square.

“Actually, the machines can’t process square envelopes,” my always cheerful postal clerk informed me.

That was Monday, when I ventured out to the U.S. Post Office in Waterville during a snowstorm to mail the last of my holiday cards, including two I needed to send out of the country. One of those two envelopes was square — who knew square cards pose a problem?

“The recipient has to pay extra postage when the card gets there, or it could get mangled up in the machine beforehand,” the clerk said.

“Uh-oh,” I replied. “I just mailed about 15 square cards.”


Allow me to back up a moment and say I am a lover of Christmas cards, both the sending of and receiving.

Writing cards in the evenings leading up to the holidays, snow falling outside the window, decorations aglow, instills in me a sense of connection, of giving to those who mean most to me. It is the same with receiving. Each card that arrives in the mail is, to me, a gift.

Each year, all year in fact, I choose cards carefully, attempting to find ones that are different, artful, quaint. I know the right cards the moment I see them, all boxed up, sometimes as part of summertime sales in coastal towns. The price has to be right, however, and I relish a good bargain. I won’t spend $20 for a box of cards.

Sometimes stores such as Marden’s Surplus & Salvage have wonderful cards and at a price that won’t break the pocketbook. So it was with great excitement that I discovered there recently a box of 20 cards printed in England on fine quality paper, bearing various holiday scenes such as a Christmas tree in the snow all adorned with colored lights, and a pair of red and blue mittens strung together with yarn. The best part? The box was only $4.99.

I strive to have all my cards written and mailed by Dec. 10. This year, I vowed to accomplish all Christmas-related tasks, including shopping and wrapping, earlier, to ensure I am obligation-free the week before Christmas. My thought was, I can slow down, bake cookies, prepare for our Christmas Eve gathering and just enjoy the season’s magic.

In two days, I wrote out all 115 cards (I cut my list down a few years ago, from about 150) and mailed them. I also wrapped and packaged gifts to be mailed away.


Cards are shown that Amy Calder tried to mail out for the holiday season, but they were returned because of their square shape. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

On Monday, armed with those gifts and the last of my cards, I trekked to the post office, pleased to be ahead of the game exactly three weeks before Christmas.

I walked into the lobby, mailed the thick stack of cards in the wall slot and then proceeded inside to see the clerk about posting the two cards to leave the U.S. — one to a cousin in Canada and another to my niece in France.

The card to Canada would cost so much, plus 40 cents more because the envelope was square, he advised me.

“Oh,” I said, “Is there a problem with square envelopes?”

That is when I learned that square doesn’t cut it.

On Tuesday, I searched the U.S. Post Office online and, sure enough, there’s an explanation. First-class letters that have “nonmachinable” characteristics will pay a surcharge.


“Customers can be unpleasantly surprised that they must pay extra postage when, for example, they mail a square greeting card,” it says. “The Postal Service charges extra postage because mail pieces that are rigid, square or unusually shaped often jam postal equipment and are difficult to process. This costs the Postal Service time and money — and may damage your mail piece.”

As I write this, my husband, Phil, drops today’s mail on my desk. One is the square card I mailed four days ago to another niece in the Virgin Islands. It came back to me.

The phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished” (one Phil uses a lot), comes to mind.

I may have beat the clock when it comes to card writing, but I lost the race in mailing them out.

Oh, well. I’ve decided if I find square cards in the future that I can’t live without, I’ll just jump in the sleigh and hand-deliver them.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published this year by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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