The Friday after Thanksgiving in America marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Lusty consumer spending during the winter holidays is fueled, in part, by our cozy images of the season. Nathaniel Currier and James Ives' 19th-century lithographs of snow-crusted fields, frosty farmhouse windows, and families bundled on one-horse sleighs still adorn our holiday cards. Each year on television, we fall in love again with snow-dappled Bedford Falls in the beloved, 1946 Christmas movie classic, It's a Wonderful Life. And we re-introduce our children to Clement Moore's classic poem, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas."

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse . . .

We crank up misty seasonal music, like "Silver Bells," with its cheery lyrics, like:

Strings of street lights
Even stop lights
Blink a bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures. . . .

Sad to say, though, that while gift-giving is still an integral part of the holidays, you don't see many contented shoppers. Or, for that matter, carolers, horse-drawn sleighs or miniature villages in charming Christmas window displays.

Today's Currier and Ives would have to depict crowded airports, harried shoppers driving from mall to mall, and impatient townfolk in long lines at post office counters. And with more than a third of American holiday shoppers now ordering gifts on the Internet rather than fighting the crowds, might another Clement Moore write,

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Computers were stirring -- keyboard, modem, and mouse?