WHAT WERE the folks at the King of Prussia Mall thinking when they scheduled their annual Men's Shopping Night for tonight?

It's too early.

Mall managers would get a much larger crowd, if, say, they held off for at least a week.

Better yet, they should have pushed it off until Dec. 24.

Judging by all the looks of panic on last-minute shoppers' faces on Christmas Eve, that's Men's Day at most malls anyway.

Yesterday, I set out to find out why it is that so many men procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping. (Not everyone waits until the last minute. Roughly 40 percent of us, according to the National Retail Federation, start holiday shopping before Halloween.)

Here's what I found after I started asking around and sending out e-mails, trying to find out what's behind the holiday foot-dragging.

Tyrone Patton wrote: "I heard there are going to be stores open on Christmas."

Huh? He was joking, right? I tried to get him to clarify but he wisely stopped responding to my messages.

Another foot-dragger, John Johnson, whom I met on Facebook, said that he gets around the whole holiday rush by not even trying to do any shopping until after Christmas.

"I always 'take a vacation' around Christmas," he said. "Then shop on the 26th during the real sales. Then, I visit family from the 27th to New Year's and give out the gifts. I leave them in my trunk so they get that worn look to them . . . as if I had them a while."

Yeah, but how does he handle the sad faces from nieces or nephews on Christmas Day?

"I don't show up. I hang with friends out of town on Christmas . . . and give them the 'oh, can't make it today . . . been drinking.' "

So much angst surrounding so simple a holiday ritual, one that a lot of folks actually look forward to.

I needed the big guns to help me figure out what was going on. Sharon Beckwith, author of "Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman?" sent me a list of tips for men when it comes to gift-giving, as well as her personal theories on all the procrastination.

"First, men don't like to shop unless it's for consumer electronics or vehicles, so they try to get in and out of the mall as quickly as possible before anything bad happens to them.

"Second, a gift can make or break a relationship, and men know that, so there is tremendous pressure on them to buy just the right gift.

"To summarize: They don't like to shop but now they have to shop for gifts that aren't going to destroy relationships. Who can blame them for postponing that experience?"

Cory Bank, a psychologist based in Glenside, says, "Women are very good at multi-tasking. They seem to be better wired for it. Men tend to be more tunnel vision. . . . I'll wait until next week and do it.

"Maybe part of it is cultural," added Bank, whose Web site, stompstressaway.com, deals with holiday stress, among other topics.

Or maybe avoidance.

"I know so many who can't wait until New Year's is over with so they can focus on going back to work and into their routines. Holiday stress is huge."

Of course, we've all been doing a lot of generalizing. Some men pride themselves on keeping up with the best female shoppers. Chad Lassiter, an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, honed his skills while still an adolescent shopping at the old J.C. Penney store at the Gallery with his mother and grandmother. He has already bought, wrapped and hidden away his wife's gifts.

"I plan because if you fail to plan, you're planning to fail," Lassiter said, a note of pride creeping into his voice. "I try to get all my stuff out of the way. I'll probably be done by this upcoming weekend."

Now, he's just showing off.

Men's Shopping Night at the King of Prussia Mall is from 5 to 10 tonight. There will be free beer and cocktails, special discounts, gift wrapping, a deejay, food and personal shoppers.