Yesterday was a gorgeous, surprisingly warm fall day. So did Swanee Austin's thoughts turn to leaf-kicking strolls through the park, jugs of apple cider, maybe picking up a pumpkin?

No. Austin was prowling the aisles of a toy store in North Bethesda's White Flint Mall with her Christmas list.

Austin is one of that unique breed of people who maintain about a two-month jump on life. They're the ones who annoyingly came to class with their high school reports completely finished, while others were scrambling to put together footnotes and bibliographies.

They're the ones who have already made reservations for next year's vacation. They're the examples parents hold up to procrastinating offspring: "So-and-so would never have let it go this long."

There were more than a few of these folks at the White Flint Mall yesterday and, as they saw it, this was a perfectly natural time to look for Christmas gifts, in 70-plus-degree weather, with the store windows plastered with "fall clearance" signs.

"In fact, I told him just the other day, 'Let's get out the Christmas ornaments and look at them,' " said Phyllis Totten, 26, nodding at her husband as they stood before a display stand of tree decorations at Bloomingdale's while strains of "The Little Drummer Boy" floated from a store speaker.

Her voice dripped with distaste when she described the "mad rush before Christmas" that most people annually endure. "I hate the grabbing and the pawing, people all over the place," she said.

At Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby, Sharon Maslan, a like-minded, "very organized" reading specialist from Baltimore, laid a Hanukkah toy for her 6-year-old son on the counter and said, "To me, it's never too early."

Austin, her arms piled with Christmas gifts for her nieces and nephews, actually started a little late this year with her shopping -- in September. "Last year I found bargains in August," said Austin, who works as a health planner.

At Georgetown Leather Design, Shiva Mirsaeedi, a 21-year-old cashier, praised the people who have begun Christmas shopping.

"It's better for us. Christmas is hell here," said Mirsaeedi.

"I think it's really the wisest thing." And so when she begin her shopping? "Oh, I usually wait until the last minute."

Along with Austin and the Tottens, the mall drew some regular shoppers yesterday afternoon. "Christmas?" repeated Regina Cincotta blankly as she took her package from the cashier at Expressions, a gift store. "No, this is for a birthday. I have to take things gradually. I wait until two weeks before."

Dorothy Morris, a psychiatric nurse from Silver Spring who was shopping at a lingerie store, said, "I'll deal with that Christmas when the time comes."

That's usually the approach of the Tanners, a couple from Newport News, Va., who were in the Washington area for a short visit. But this weekend they were shopping for Christmas gifts of clothing for their 2-year-old daughter, plus wrapping paper and cards.

"Yes, crazy as it seems, we are Christmas shopping," said Allen Tanner, a lawyer. "We've actually never done anything this early before," said his wife Debbie.

She used to "hate" the early shoppers, as if they were purposefully trying to make her feel guilty. "I used to think, 'Oh how could they do it, how could they be that organized?' " But temporarily joining their ranks, she said, "feels pretty good."

Look at it this way. If you don't get the Christmas shopping out of the way now, when will there be time to find a Mother's Day card?