She woke up at 7 a.m., tired and a bit groggy from Thursday's festivities. But as she has done on the day after Thanksgiving for the past two decades, Ann Behrns was determined to get a jump on the day.

The busy, 45-year-old mother of three pulled herself out of bed. Within minutes, she had showered and dressed in a roomy T-shirt, exercise tights, gym socks and running shoes. Then, it was down to the kitchen of her colonial Bowie home for a bowl of Shredded Wheat and a cup of coffee.

Finally, it was time to venture out.

But unlike thousands of other holiday shoppers, Behrns wasn't headed to the mall. She was going to her back yard, her front yard and her side yards, where for the next three weeks, she will painstakingly erect one of the most elaborate Christmas displays a neighborhood has ever seen.

"It's a tradition for me," said Behrns as she and her 12-year-old son, Christopher, positioned a wooden sleigh on their front lawn--the first of hundreds of decorations and lights she will put up on her property this season. "I guess I get carried away. But I love it."

Behrns wasn't the only one who deliberately stayed away from the malls. Across the region, families and friends spent part or all of yesterday avoiding what is considered the official start of the holiday season--and one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Despite the allure of deep discounts and bargains that materialize the day after Thanksgiving, some said they decided to stay away from the malls and toy stores because they didn't feel like pushing and shoving their way through the crowds.

Instead, they used the day to spend time with friends and family, play a game of touch football, go to the movies or work out at the gym or ice skating rink.

Karen Edwards, 32, knew months in advance what she was doing the morning after Thanksgiving. Her body, she said, could not do otherwise.

"I normally go to the gym three times a week," said Edwards, who had just completed an aerobics class at Bally's Total Fitness in Greenbelt. "But this time of year I try to increase my workouts to five days a week, because I know I'm going to be eating a lot."

Tony Russ, of the District, had a different take on the workout regimen.

"This has nothing to do with Thanksgiving, I would have been here anyway," said Russ, who was on his third hour of lifting weights, working his abdominals and running on the treadmill at Bally's. "I don't eat all that stuff until I moan and groan."

For some people, the prospect of spending yet another day inside was reason enough to get out. Hundreds of well-fed Virginians gladly stood in a snaking line--outside, in a driving rain--to buy movie tickets at the Regal Cinemas in Sterling.

"I was specifically told we're not going to stay in the house all day," said Steve Clark, 29, a resident of Loudoun County's Ashburn Village.

Those instructions were issued by Clark's girlfriend, Ellen Dehnbostel, who cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 19 people and hadn't seen much more than the four walls of the kitchen in the last 24 hours.

"There was no way I was doing that again," said Dehnbostel, 39, who was taking her daughter, Sarah, 7, to see "Toy Story 2."

Shari Daniels and her husband, Carl Catanese, of Takoma Park, had the same idea, only their outing took them to the Herbert Wells ice rink in College Park, where their 3-year-old son skated like a natural.

"I can't believe he's doing so well," shrieked Daniels. "This is much more fun than shopping."

So is turning your home into a winter wonderland, Behrns said.

By 11 a.m. yesterday, she had lined her driveway with four-foot-tall candy canes and erected a 10-foot-tall, plywood snowman and giant, handmade stockings in her yard.

Stealing a few minutes to catch her breath, Behrns continued at a steady pace, trekking back and forth from the back yard to a tree house and a garage attic where most of the Christmas decorations are stored.

Behrns said she grew up decorating her childhood home after Thanksgiving and carried on the tradition when she married and moved into her own home in 1979. During the year, she thinks of ways to enhance her display. By October, she is drawing sketches of new ornaments and hunting down ribbon, bows, paints and other materials to make them.

She doesn't know how many lights or ornaments she has, but it's in the hundreds. She figures she spends about $300 a year adding to her collection.

"I don't really like to think about that part of it," said Kim Behrns, who last year contributed to his wife's habit by buying her a case, 24 boxes, of ornamental lights. Each box contained a string of 75 lights. "It's pricey, but it's fun."

It's also scary, said Ann Behrns, recalling a moment last year when she questioned her sanity after climbing onto the roof to string lights.

"I couldn't get down," she said, laughing. "I was up on the upper roof and I had to stay up there until my husband came home."

Staff writer Jennifer Lenhart contributed to this report.