The calendar may say Aug. 24, but there's a shop in Old Town Alexandria where it's Dec. 25 every day of the year.
A virtual winter wonderland awaits visitors to the Christmas Attic on South Union Street. An antique Porter music box greets them with "Edelweiss" and the air is punctuated with the sweet spicy aroma of gingerbread. Lights and tree decorations twinkle everywhere, while overhead a toy Santa train circles a track suspended from the ceiling.
Like a Christmas miracle, the crankiness born of fighting bumper-to-bumper traffic and the gagging mugginess of August simply melts away.
Store employees witness the magic almost daily.
"As soon as people get in here, they seem to cheer up," said Amalia Moore. "That's what makes it a fun and relaxing place to work. Everyone is always in a happy mood."
That elfin feeling helps explain why a store geared toward Christmas does bristling business even in the doldrums of summer. Never mind that Santa won't be stuffing chimneys for another 122 days.
"It makes you feel good to be in here," said Amanda Fowler, of Springfield, as she browsed yesterday with sons Chipper, 12, and Ben, 11.
For tourist Sue Birky, Christmas in August is normal.
"I used to work for Hallmark, and Christmas started in July, so I guess I'm used to being in the spirit early," Birky said with a laugh as she loaded up on cards, stocking stuffers and collectible figures.
The sheer volume of merchandise is breathtaking. The shop has thousands of ornaments--from the traditional angels, bells, Santas and snowmen, to specialty items to suit every taste, hobby and occasion.
There are decorated trees for every event as well--among them, the baby tree, the bride tree, the ballerina tree, the nautical-themed tree and the Halloween tree.
And, with the end of the 20th century fast approaching, the Attic has a supply of millennium ornaments and decorations as well.
After 27 years in business, the Christmas Attic has a loyal clientele. Kenny Kilgannon and his fiancee, Linda Nelson, travel down each summer from New York. They've collected about a dozen ornaments between them.
Some shoppers are strictly about business. Californian Lisa Applebeary, in town for a teddy bear and doll expo, was looking for props to go with the teddy bears she designs.
And Sarah Hoff, who works at the South Austin Grill nearby in Old Town, ran in to snap up a box of red chili pepper lights--the peppers are part of the restaurant's theme.
Attic employees say they never overdose on the abundance of tinsel and trinkets.
"We live in fantasy," said Jill Chambers, one of the store's managers. "For the people who work here, Christmas is in their blood."
CAPTION: Lisa Applebeary shops for ornaments at the Christmas Attic in Alexandria.
CAPTION: New Yorkers Linda Nelson and Kenny Kilgannon browse in the Christmas Attic in Alexandria.