Does the mere thought of trudging through malls to ferret out the perfect gift, or a reasonable facsimile, elevate your stress level? Fed up with $50 parking tickets for a 20-minute shopping jaunt in Georgetown? Perhaps you detest the canned music that plays while you wait for the next available sales representative to take your catalogue order.

Take heart! Fax your Christmas order, instead. Even though there are only 11 (counting today) shopping days until Christmas, it's still possible to fax your holiday shopping, bypassing full parking lots, cashier's lines, kids selling candy bars, and the dazzling confusion of consumer goods that threaten to consume you.

Why fax when you can phone? Faxing saves time: no need to dial a dozen catalogue companies, wait on hold or endure lengthy salutations soured by false cheer. No need to repeat delivery address and credit card numbers over and over. No sales tax. When catalogue orders are faxed, the job is done when the fax machine light activates the paper through electronic transmission sending a ray of hope into your harried holiday schedule.

First, gather up catalogues, select gifts and write up the orders. Fill in the credit card and delivery address information.

Put a telephone number where you can be reached if the company doesn't have the merchandise you order in stock and indicate that you expect delivery by a certain date.

For real deadline huggers, some companies offer overnight or two-day delivery service. Write down all the company fax numbers on a separate piece of paper because the order forms with fax dial numbers printed on them will be face down in the fax machine. Fax out the order. No need to make a photocopy of the order, you'll have the original one after transmission. Many machines spit out an acknowledgment slip after each fax.

Some catalogue companies actually prefer fax orders. "Faxes are easier to handle," says Naoto Inoue of Peaceworks, a small merchandise-with-a-message catalogue company in Maine, which sells T-shirts, tote bags and note cards. "We prefer mail or fax orders because we are volunteers and don't have anyone staffing the phones. Phone orders take up a lot of time when people don't have their orders worked out yet."

Bill O'Donnell, general manager of Campmor, a New Jersey discount sports equipment and clothing catalogue company, says they take orders by fax because customers were asking. "It's worth it because we have a fax here anyway and it's easier to process a fax or phone with credit card than a mail order with a check."

This is the first year for fax orders at Olivia Records, a feminist music and gift catalogue company. Janet Smith, vice president, says, "We got the fax for other business, so it doesn't cost us anything." Very few fax orders have come in, which Smith thinks might be because the fax line is not toll-free.

What moves a company to accept fax orders? Customer service. Brian Finnegan of Land's End recalls, "Last Christmas customer letters indicated they wanted to fax orders. It's more convenient to punch a button and send the order. The phone is quicker because the order is entered instantly, but with a fax, it's a same day-process."

The Smithsonian Institution added fax orders in the spring of 1989. "Customers were sending orders on the office fax, so obviously there was a need," says Carole Fox, operations manager of the Smithsonian Mail Order Division. "The fax is used a lot by international people, not particularly Americans living abroad, but foreigners overseas." How do they get the catalogue? "We piggy back the catalogue with the Smithsonian magazine." Even this close to Christmas, Fox sees no reason why merchandise from the Smithsonian catalogue won't make the under-the-tree deadline. "Faxes are keyed directly to the computer and we have a 48-hour turnaround," she says.

Getting around the stamp line at the post office via the fax machine has been a lifesaver for many patrons, although it may be too late to order stamps for this year's Christmas cards.

The question arises: Where do you find a fax machine to use? Print shops and mailing service shops offer fax machines for public use. For most employed people, the nearest fax is in the office. Before blithely using the company fax-o-matic, though, it might be a good idea to check with a supervisor. John Houser, corporate spokesman for MCI, the telecommunications company, says, "We believe equipment should be used for business purposes only, but we'd turn a blind eye to occasional employee use. We don't see it a serious problem. I've yet to see an employee use the fax for personal purposes."

"Strictly for business!" states Nicholas Hill, manager of corporate information for the Marriott Corp. "We don't see any personal use anytime, not just at Christmas. There's a strong work ethic here."