Mickey Mouse and his friends helped open the Christmas shopping season in downtown Washington yesterday, but only the kids small enough to be hoisted over the crowds outside Woodward & Lothrop department store got a really good view of the Hollywood visitors.

Most adults had to rely on their pint-sized offspring for a report on the festivities.

"Goofy! Goofy!" shouted 5-year-old Ayana Thompson, pointing to one of the costumed Walt Disney characters cavorting on a crowd-swamped stage at G and 10th streets NW. Propped on her father's shoulders, Ayana was one of the lucky ones who could see what was going on. She and other children, similarly elevated by their parents, bobbed excitedly overhead, all snug in their junior-size parkas like dozens of little airborne mushrooms.

Kids, and kids only, seemed to be having all the fun. They got to see Mickey and Daisy and Pluto and the other Disney characters. They were served Mouseketeer cookies and hot chocolate.

Grownups were just getting back pains and staring into somebody else's hairdo.

It was like that all over Washington yesterday, kids having a good time and grownups having to fight the traditional holiday crowds.

"Oh, my God!" said one woman as she descended the escalator into the packed toy department at Woodies. "Can you believe it?"

"Forty-five minutes for one $2.10 fare!" cried taxi driver Negussie Tedla after battling traffic to drop passengers at the department store. "Forty-five minutes for one fare! Imagine! I'm not coming downtown any more today."

At Fair Oaks Shopping Center in Fairfax County, shoppers raced each other for the few available parking spaces.

"I don't mind shopping in the crowds except if you have to beat out three little old ladies just to park," said Nancy Scanlan of Vienna. "You have to be aggressive. Very aggressive."

Officials at Fair Oaks estimated that 140,000 shoppers went through the mall yesterday, about twice the size of a typical Saturday crowd, but short of a holiday record.

Similar throngs converged on the new downtown Hecht's store, where sales were said to be 70 percent over last year's at Hecht's old location a few blocks further east.

"We think we'll surpass any previous Christmas," said Ken Winfield, Hecht's senior vice president for administration, even though the late arrival of Thanksgiving this year cut the traditional holiday shopping season to 26 days.

Winfield reported especially large crowds in the video recorder, home entertainment, jewelry and men's shirts departments.

White Flint Mall in Rockville also was bustling. But if shoppers suffered bumps and bruises in the melee, most took it with a smile.

"It is madness," said Lynne Astrich, of Rockville. "You just have to put yourself in a particular frame of mind. You know it's going to be the craziest day of the year . . . . But after all that Thanksgiving dinner, you should have lots of energy.

Teen-agers at the mall were hungry for parties and the shopping scene had a distinctly social flavor.

"Where else would you go today?" shrugged one 17-year-old girl who asked not to be identified, saying it might get her in trouble with her parents. "All my friends are here. You come real dressed up . . . . It's like the first party of Christmas."

Irwin and Debby Cohen of Rockville almost stayed home. They still had unhappy memories of holiday hordes past.

"We had a real bad experience at Tysons Corner a couple of years ago," Irwin Cohen said. "It took us an hour and 15 minutes to get in and out of the place."

"But he's real happy because we bought so many things on sale," Debby Cohen interjected.

"Well," said her husband, "I'm not 100 percent sure about the bargain part."

In Santa's Secret Workshop at the downtown Woodies, the merchants set up a special shopping area for children. Kids had to be no more than three feet tall to get through the tiny door into the workshop and nobody older than 12 was admitted.

There, chaperoned by store clerks, the youngsters got to shop all by themselves. ALL BY THEMSELVES. The grownups got to pay the bill.

"The kids really enjoy it. It gives them a chance to do shopping on their own," said clerk Christine Thompson.

And over at Mrs. Claus' Kitchen, a long line of children waited with their parents for a chance to decorate cookies. There were big jars full of different colored jimmies and tubes that squirted sugar decorating goo. The children got plastic aprons to wear, but not one adult got past the door.

"Ooooo, wow! This is fun!" exclaimed one little boy.

Drat.