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With Catalogs of Every Description, Who Needs Santa?

It won't be chestnuts roasting on an open fire in many American homes on Christmas Day this Sunday. It will be Christmas catalogs, curling into fluttering, charred flakes in fireplaces across the land.

Over the past couple of months, some households received hundreds of these slickly-produced gift catalogs, which entice readers to buy particular clothes or kitchenware, toys or upscale furniture, chocolates or designer wines, high-tech gadgets or sporting goods for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwaanza.

One U.S. retailer, the JC Penney Company, sent out 10 million copies of its catalog, which is organized by themes, such as gifts under $25 and gifts for nostalgic memories. Another catalog, by the Pottery Barn company, runs 192 pages!

Each holiday catalog shows off products at their best, of course. As the Washington Post newspaper points out, "Beds are always made, pets are brushed, and liquor is poured from cut-glass decanters."

Among this year's hot catalog items are espresso machines, gambling paraphernalia, and something called a chocolate fondue fountain. You can also see fetching photo displays of marshmallow toasters -- that's right, marshmallow toasters -- real motorcycles for little kids, and python-skin handbags.

Shopping from catalogs saves people a trip to mall. No pressure, no crowds. You pour a glass of wine, drag out your bags full of accumulated catalogs, and start browsing. And catalogs really work. Telephoned orders for products promoted in Christmas catalogs are up 16% so far this season.

It's too late now to order from a catalog in time for Christmas, which is why millions of them are going up in flames. But never fear! Valentine's Day and Spring catalogs will be along in the mail any day now.