THE MALLS: You love 'em. You hate 'em. You go anyway, every December. You and about six hundred zillion other people -- one of whom always arrives at that soon- to-be-vacant parking space two seconds before you do.

Well, Merry Christmas to you too, fella!

Sorry. So a lot of you say you're going to do all your shopping by mail or by strolling through downtown Frederick this holiday season. Sure you are. And this weekend you're the one trying to sneak out of Tysons Corner by blocking four lanes of traffic on Leesburg Pike with your pre-crisis Chrysler. Or in front of me in line at the Hecht's in Landover, writing that check before you realize you don't have your driver's license with you. Because you never had a driver's license.

Hey, joy to the world there, ma'am. Ya wanna jingle your bells a little, eh?

Sorry. I know. Nobody really loves shopping malls, really, except maybe the very young or old, and then it's a social thing. But a lot of us at least like them -- because, well, everything's there in one place: stores, movie theaters, places to have a drink, places to eat, fountains to hang around next to and splash your little brother when Mom's not looking. Yeah. And little ones crying, and overzealous security guards, and kids with radios bigger than their torsos. . . and -- and people who park their cars across two spaces!

Sorry. All right, I'm fine now. I suppose I should follow my own rules of Holiday Mall-Going. Did I mention those?

No. Well, they are:

1. Shop in May or June. If impossible, skip to Rule No. 2.

2. Rather than get upset before you actually start shopping, just assume you're going to have to park in another county, maybe even in another state. Some of the newer malls have more and better-laid-out parking than the others, but assume this -- I mean really expect to walk 10 minutes before you reach a climate-controlled environment -- and then anything better will seem like a reason to start going to church again.

3. If you are pushing a stroller, please look behind you before you turn suddenly into Herman's. Thank you. Ouch.

4. If you are stroller-less, pass those who aren't with extreme caution. Or stop into Herman's yourself for some shin guards.

5. If you're not in a hurry, for God's sake get out of the way.

6. If you're in a hurry, forget it. Nobody ever gets out of the way.

7. Tell everybody at home that when you say, "I'm going to the mall and I'll be home by 6," you really mean "When I get home at 8:30, I'll be in a really bad mood."

8. Sears does not take American Express. Or anything else -- just Sears credit cards and cash, and of course checks -- but have a driver's license handy. Please.

What follows is another list -- of 16 of Washington's largest and best-known shopping malls. All of them are enclosed -- meaning they have heated, covered common areas where you can sit down, wait for somebody, watch young people smoke their first cigarettes, etc. -- and all have at least one large "anchor" (a Hecht's, a Woodies, a Sears, a K mart, etc.). Other than that, they have their own individual personalities. Which are generally related to the neighborhood. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

GEORGETOWN PARK -- 3222 M Street NW. Garfinckel's, Scan and about 100 others on three chandeliered, neo-Victorian, neo-breathtaking levels. Opened 1981. What Disney World would have done if somebody suggested they build a ride called "Upscale Shopping." The parking downstairs -- like almost everything upstairs -- costs significantly more than it does in, say, Laurel. Nice restaurants, though. And Georgetown itself is right outside the preserved front facade.

vMAZZA GALLERIE -- 5300 Wisconsin Avenue NW. Neiman-Marcus, Raleighs and about 45 others on three levels. Opened 1977. You know -- the big white windowless thing above Jenifer Street. Walking distance to Lord & Taylor, Woodward & Lothrop, Brooks Brothers and Saks, but wear a coat. Mink, if possible. MARYLAND

BELTWAY PLAZA -- 6158 Greenbelt Road, Greenbelt. Marshall's, Best and about 85 other stores -- including a True Value Hardware, a Webster Warehouse Outlet, a tanning center (where the booths open directly onto the pizzeria dining area) and one of the area's largest indoor displays of velvet paintings and pre-framed, $24.99 Elvis posters. Opened in 1961, redone in 1973. Elvis died in 1977.

FOREST VILLAGE PARK MALL -- 3393 Donnell Drive, Suitland. J.C. Penney, K mart and about 75 others on one level. Opened 1980. Like the mall's full name, it's bigger than you thought; no wonder people take the K mart shopping carts with them to the other stores. The other night, somebody programmed the PC displayed at Radio Shack to keep repeating "I LOVE PRINCE." Near Burlington Coat Factory, Scott's, Kresge's and the Beltway.

IVERSON MALL -- 3737 Branch Avenue, Hillcrest Heights. Woodward & Lothrop, Montgomery Ward and about 70 others on one level. Opened 1967 and built to last. Across the street from Marlow Heights Shopping Center (Hecht's, Lerner, Woolworth).

LAKEFOREST MALL -- 701 Russell Avenue, Gaithersburg. Hecht's, J.C. Penney, Sears, Woodward & Lothrop and about 140 others on two levels. Opened 1978. The Taubman Co., which also built the nearly identical (but larger) Fair Oaks in Fairfax, has a way of making its malls big -- but manageable and airy. I-270 is not far and parking is not bad, even though the place is finally almost fully leased. The ice rink's been replaced by five movie theaters. Fine job on the Christmas decorations.

LANDOVER MALL -- Landover and Brightseat roads, Landover. Hecht's, Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, Garfinckel's and about 130 others on two nice- looking, non-glitzy levels. Opened 1972. More shoes for sale here than there are feet in all of Prince George's County, plus at least three sizeable shops for women who are likewise. Real easy to get to, being inches from the Beltway, but you will frequently find yourself inching your way out.

LAUREL CENTER -- Route 1 at Cherry Lane, Laurel. Hecht's, Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, Jamesway and about 200 others on two levels. Opened 1956, enclosed and enlarged 1979. Nice feel -- enhanced by skylights that filter sun through oak slats onto the oak trim and terracotta tile below, and by some unusual-to-Washington specialty shops. Including a few on the central carousel, which is surrounded by a fountain and actually rotates once over the course of 45 minutes.

MONTGOMERY MALL -- 7101 Democracy Boulevard, North Bethesda. Hecht's, Woodward & Lothrop, Garfinckel's, Sears and about 100 others on two recently redone levels. Opened 1968, but looks almost new (blond wood, ficus, skylights, etc.). Where Montgomery County shoppers go when they just want to shop, and don't want to feel as if they were doing so among the Fortune 500 families in Short Hills, N.J. (in other words, White Flint). Near Best, Hechinger, I-270 and Beltway.

PRINCE GEORGE'S PLAZA -- 3500 East-West Highway, Hyattsville. Hecht's, Woodward & Lothrop, Murphy and about 90 others on one level. Opened 1957, enclosed and enlarged 1972. This was Washington's fourth Hecht's (following downtown's, Silver Spring's and Arlington's; you can tell from the small "t" and small "c" in the scripted "the Hecht co." sign). The Plaza remains a fairly friendly, no-frills place; the corridor floors are asphalt tile, there are no skylights, and the thick wood benches are usually populated by older folks who came more to visit than shop. The lot in the back, off Belcrest Road, is usually less crowded and easier to get in and out of.

WHEATON PLAZA -- University Boulevard at Viers Mill Road, Wheaton. Montgomery Ward, Woodward & Lothrop, Raleighs and about 70 others on one level. Opened 1960, enclosed 1981. A good basic mall -- built originally by Theodore Lerner, who later put up a couple of things called Tysons Corner, Landover and White Flint. More of a neighborhood -- and neighborly -- place than most other 800,000-square-foot emporiums.

WHITE FLINT -- 11301 Rockville Pike, Rockville. Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, I. Magnin and about 110 others on three levels. Opened 1977. Not just a mall, but a meandering, glittering Shopping Experience. Especially if, in your experience, sweaters start at $75. There are almost no stairs here, only elevators (including the glass-walled kind commandeered by 11-year-olds most of the day) and escalators. And the Franklin Mint's only retail outlet, in case you missed its TV commercials. Plus a lot of fancy names. (A place they would call 16-Plus at Landover, is here a store called Pennington du Canada.) Second floor has a big eatery; third floor has restaurants, bars, theaters, and, just in case no Jane Fonda movies are playin a glass-walled Nautilus workout room. Metro's Red Line isn't too far away, but nobody arrives at White Flint by subway. VIRGINIA

FAIR OAKS SHOPPING CENTER -- U.S. 50 at West Ox Road, Fairfax. Hecht's, Lord & Taylor, Sears, J.C. Penney, Garfinckel's, Woodward & Lothrop and 166 others. Opened 1980. Big enough to have a Fairfax Public Library branch on the premises, Fair Oaks is almost as far from the center of Washington as Taubman's Maryland outpost, Lakeforest. It is easier to reach, however, thanks in part to I-66 and the $5 million worth of bridges and overpasses the developer installed to get people to its high-ceilinged, skylit profit center. Other stuff: touch-sensitive computer screens that help you find gifts (and these are found in an ever-increasing number of malls), restaurants clustered near the exits, and about 8,000 parking spaces.

SEVEN CORNERS SHOPPING CENTER -- Route 7 at U.S. 50, Seven Corners. Woodward & Lothrop, Garfinckel's, Woolworth and about 65 others on two lev. Opened in 1956 as Northern Virginia's second enclosed shopping center. (Arlington's Parkington was the first.) Renovated substantially in 1977. Across Route 7 is Lord & Taylor. Montgomery Ward and Syms are nearby.

vSPRINGFIELD MALL -- Franconia Road at I-395, Springfield. Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney, Garfinckel's and about 180 others on two levels. Opened 1973. Virginia's all-purpose mall; not quite as big or "upscale" as either Tysons or Fair Oaks, but this doesn't seem to bother anybody. The only thing that bothers people about Springfield is getting in and out of it, through the worst- designed interstate merge in the universe (where Shirley Highway, the Beltway, I-95 and numerous automobiles abruptly meet). Just follow the signs off Shirley Highway toward Franconia, not Springfield, and forgive the traffic lights. They're doing the best they can, under the circumstances.

TYSONS CORNER CENTER -- Routes 7 and 123, McLean. Bloomingdale's, Hecht's, Woodward & Lothrop, Garfinckel's and about 150 others on one sprawling level. Two theater clusters, restaurants, computer store-finders and a real pain in the neck to get in and out of this month. Avoid Leesburg Pike (Route 7) if you can; Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) is somewhat less congested, and is now connected to the Dulles Access Road extension, which is connected to I-66 and the Beltway. You figure it out. Just stay away from this area on a Thursday or Friday evening in December -- when rush hour meets the Christmas rush -- unless you have food and water in the car. ET CETERA

SMALLER MALLS -- I don't know. Try Beacon Mall in Groveton (Marshall's, Channel, Levitz and 30 others), or Carrollton Mall in New Carrollton (Best, Channel, six theaters and an Adjustable Bed Co. store, which you don't see just everywhere, and about 25 others). Or the underground stuff at Crystal City or Skyline. But why go to a mall unless you can stay for at least four or five hours?

PRACTICALLY A MALL -- Landmark Center, off I-395 at Duke Street in lower Alexandria, has a Hecht's, Sears, Woodward & Lothrop, Raleighs and an S&W Cafeteria, which itself serves real vegetables and hot dinners for less than you thought. You will need the hot dinners, though. Landmark, built in 1965 and substantially renovated in 1978, is not enclosed. Not yet.

FAR-OUT MALLS -- In Maryland: Columbia Mall (best Christmas decorations around); Annapolis Mall; and Francis Scott Key and Frederick Towne malls in Frederick. In Virginia: Manassas Mall, and Spotsylvania Mall in Fredericksburg.

FIRST MALL -- Parkington, at Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, was the area's first enclosed (though neither heated nor air-conditioned) suburban mall. It was reduced mostly to rubble this year, and will next year reopen as Ballston Common, with 100 or so all-new stores surrounding the Hecht's that has remained open through its own substantial (and substantially complete) renovation.