With thousands of American troops and civilians in the Middle East, it's time to begin thinking about sending Christmas mail.

Parcels traveling to civilians in the Middle East by surface mail should be sent by Oct. 21 to be there in time for the holidays, the Postal Service (search) said Friday.

Parcel post addressed to military APO and FPO addresses worldwide should be sent by Nov. 13, the agency said. The deadline is Nov. 27 for mail shipped on military aircraft when space is available and Dec. 4 for military parcel airlift mail.

First-class letters and priority mail to APO-FPO addresses with ZIP codes beginning with "093" should be sent by Dec. 6 and the deadline for other military ZIP codes is Dec. 11.

For civilian parcels traveling by surface mail the recommended deadline is Oct. 14 for items going to Africa, Oct. 28 for Asia, the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, Oct. 29 for Central and South America, Nov. 5 for Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe and Nov. 19 for Canada.

Global airmail parcel post should be sent by Dec. 6 to Africa, Central and South America, Dec. 10 for Europe and Dec. 13 elsewhere.

For airmail cards and letters the suggested deadlines are Dec. 6 for Africa, Central and South America and Dec. 13 for the rest of the world.

Global express mail should be sent by Dec. 11 to Africa, Central and South America and Europe, Dec. 17 to Asia, the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Mexico and the Middle East and Dec. 18 to Canada.

And global express guaranteed items can wait until Dec., 21 for Canada, Dec., 20 elsewhere.

The post office advises that military mail should include service member's full name, military organization and unit and APO-FPO number. Do not include the country name in the address of military mail.

For civilian mail, place the city or town and province name on the line after the street address. Also, put the foreign postal code in front of the city name and on the same line, write the name of the foreign country in capital letters on the last line of the address.

Suggestions for everyone:

— Make sure the box is strong enough.

— Cushion the contents of the package with shredded or rolled newspaper, bubble wrap, plastic peanuts or plain, air-popped popcorn. Pack tightly to avoid shifting.

— Use tape designed for shipping such as nylon-reinforced tape. Do not use masking tape, wrapping paper, string or cellophane tape.

— Put the delivery and return address on only one side of the package. Place a copy of the delivery and return address inside.

— Remove glass from frames and batteries from toys and wrap them separately. Stuff items that may be hollow or fragile.