The spirit of Christmas, enclosed shopping mall-style, has done violence to the soul of Officer Ronald C. Keaton, a Fairfax County policeman working his third Season of Pearce at Tysons Corner shopping Center.

On duty last week at the mall-where at least five elderly women locked themselves out of their cars, where several people threw lighted matches on the synthetic snow of the Christmas exhibits and where a loud little girl named Christy Hailey failed to perusade her mother to buy a book called "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"-Officer Keaton had this to say:

"i would rather take a beating than go to a mall."

A specialty store clerk, who has been working from 9.30 am until 10 p.m. since the Christmas season began at Tysons on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, said he did not hate work as much as he kept hoping for a natural disaster to destroy the mall. He did not choose to be identfied. Not everyone at the mall, of course, automatically equated Christmas shopping with suffering.

"Everybody have a new dress," said Aman Hamdan, who is seven months pregnant. The Lebanese woman and her husband, Imad Hamdan, wandered through the mall Friday with their baby, taking pictures.

Imad Hamdan allowed their 9-month-old child, Ayman, to crawl in the synthetic snow beneath mechanical children who were trimming a mechanical tree. The baby giggled and his mother took pictures.

In the suburbs of Washington, as in suburbs of many American cities, the ritual of Christmas shopping, be it maddening or mirthful, is carried on in Muzak- Inundated malls such as Tysons Corner. What follows, then, is a look at the ritual as performed Friday.

"Hi. This is Halston, would you like to try it?" said Karen Schubert, 19, several hundred times. Dressed in a $380 backless designer evening gown, and standing near the indoor entrance to Bloomingdale's, Schubert tried to spray Halston perfume on the wrists of passing women.

Her feet, encased in shoes with four-inch heels, hurt, she said. She had been standing and atomizing for two hours and had three hours to go.

"By the time some of these people walk past me, after fighting for a parking space outside, they are too frazzled to want to smell perfume," Schubert said.

Tysons mall has 6,500 parking spaces, which change occupants six to eight times a day during the Christmas season, according to mall management. Christmas shoppers contending for a parking space have been known to each other, according to officer Keaton.

"When I see people fighting over a space," said Keaton, "I make both cars leave and give the space to somebody else. I call it street justice."

In the mall, near Hecht's department store, the two young men who watch over the Salvation Army money bucket no longer can ring their bells, as they have no street corners for decades.

"noise pollution," said Thom Barry, a 19-year-old New Yorker who goes to college in Kentucky and near is a bell-less volunteer for the Salvation Army at Tysons. "People in the mall have complained about noise pollution, so we can't ring a bell here."

The sounds that do echo through the mall, outside each of the 133 stoes, are the chords of taped Christmas carols that repeat themselves every three hours.

We try to make the mall an exciting, interesting place for people to feel the spirit of Christmas," said Alte Faust, marketing and promotions director for Tysons. The songs on the tape are standards such as "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" and "The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. . ."). Faust said she had wanted to play just one song, "Frosty The Snowman," recorded in a number of ways.

"but there are only so many versions of 'Frosty," Faust said. Playing it over and over again could very well drive the merchants crazy, she said. "It would be like a slow drip of water."

Dave Thompson, who works at his easel in the mall all day drawing caricatures, has listened to the three-hour tape since Nov.21. "Aaaaagh," Thompson said Friday, when asked for a comment on the music.

The music repeats itself no more than the questions shoppers ask David Barnes. Barnes, manager of Georgetown Tobacco, a pipe and cigar store in the mall, said the standard exchange between shopper and salesman goes like this:

"I want to buy some cigars for my Uncle Fed."

Do you know what Uncle Fred smokes by brand," Barnes asks.

The answer, Barnes said, is usually no. Then he asks what shape of cigar Uncle Fred smokes. The answer is usually, "Normal shape."

Barnes was explaining all this on Friday when a woman came into return a $25 lighter.

"My sister bought this lighter here two months ago and it worked. She took it with her to Bogota, Colombia, and it didn't work," said Maria Clemencia Alvarez, who was planning to fly back to Bogota before Christmas.

Barnes, who figured it must be the altitude in Bogota, said, "There is nothing I can do but exchange it." Alvarez left with another brand of lighter.

Back out in the mall, Stefanie Esterheld, 2, of Falls Church, sat in a stroller considering whether she wanted to sit on Santa Claus's lap.

Back out in the mall, Stefanie Esterheld, 2, of Falls Church, sat in a stroller considering whether she wanted to sit on Santa Claus's lap.

Her mother, Terese Esterheld, who had been shopping in the mall for five hours and appeared numbed, asked, "Stefanie, are you going to talk to Santa today?"

Stefanie shook head no. Stefanie, according to her mother, has no problem talking to Santa on her little beige telephone at home. But in shopping centers, her mother said, Stefanie has a history of backing out on face-to-face meetings with the man in red.