I always felt sorry for Scrooge. Christmas was all a lot of "humbug" to him. But now I'm starting to wonder if that old miser didn't have the right idea.

Don't get me wrong. I delight in that time of year when families are reunited, when groups of celebrants gather to sing praises to the season, and when more than any other time along the calender, folks allow themselves a moment or two to contemplate the collective struggle of humanity to better itself, to grow in compassion, awareness and spirituality.

It's just that Christmas used to be celebrated in December, and other holidays throughout the year were allowed their time, too. There was a kind of balance between days of work and study, and times of celebration that brought festive relief to the routine.

Nowadays, though, there seems to be some kind of mercenary determination to thoroughly douse all holidays from August forward with red and green: "red-tag sales" and "greenback dollars." The poor, less profitable holidays are being trampled beneath the hooves of eight tiny reindeer galloping to the bank.

Labor Day once provided an excuse to take one last vacation with the kids, or at least have a picnic at the beach before sending the little ones back to their classrooms. It never had any particular greeting cards or special flower arrangements associated with it, so maybe that's what made it vulnerable to the contamination of mistletoe. This year, instead of the anticipated back-to-school sale, the local stationery store celebrated Labor Day not with a good deal on three-ring notebooks and plastic pencil pouches, but by taking over half the floor space to install their complete display of Christmas cards.

Responding to this premature jump at the cash register, the rest of the neighboring stores caught on and the assault went into full swing.

Halloween rolled in on jack-o'-lantern wheels and sulked out again, barely noticed. Before any little goblins even had a chance to eerily decorate shop windows with orange and black reminders of childhood stomach aches and scary ghost stories, in addition to the stationery store, which now had its picture window dripping with Christmas ornaments, the local department store opened its Christmas "Specialty Shoppe" and hauled out the china with Christmas trees splattered all over it.

Not wanting to be left behind, the florist posted warning signs to "order your poinsettias right now!" or else. And the book store set up a huge "preholiday" sale table cluttered with everything from remaindered rejects that you wouldn't give to your grandmother no matter how desperate you were, to dog-eared copies of "The Incredible Hulk Presents the Night Before Christmas."

Soon we will gobble our way into Thanksgiving. I remember not too long ago when we could look forward to this holiday not only for its true significance and football, but for the annual Macy's Day parade, which was the accepted kickoff for the Christmas touchdown. When Santa bounced across the check-out line in his sleigh, we knew for certain that it was time to glut ourselves with all manifestations of materialistic excess. But now we don't even have time to prepare our turkey dinner, let alone digest the meal, before we are put on a steady diet of piped-in Muzak playing "Joy to the Sales, the Season's Come," and television ads chiming "We Three Stores Are Having a Sale."

What then is the solution? I can only defer to old Scrooge and his wisdom. I say that every store that displays the red and green before December should be boiled in its own Christmas pudding and buried with a stake of holly through its stockroom.

Bah! Humbug! Nancy Rigg is a Los Angeles writer.