All Anton Mahne's wife wanted for Christmas was a Pandora bracelet - and to walk again.
"I can't do anything about that," Mahne said of his wife's disability, the result of a stroke she suffered after giving birth to their daughter 18 months ago.
But at 8 this morning, the Cherry Hill radiologist was among the first in line at the Pandora jewelry store at Cherry Hill Mall.
Yes, in line, with several other flinty holiday shoppers making a mad dash for gifts.
Christmas crunch time is here and the final retail push is under way, with swamped shopping centers, jammed parking lots and 11th-hour consumers such as Mahne. But give the guy a break.
"I've been on call since Friday, but have off between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m.," he said, before pulling out his cell phone to show off pictures of his wife, Maria, 34, and baby Julieta.
Behind him, Steve Ott, 58, who was buying his wife a charm for her bracelet, admitted that he's just a last-minute kind of guy.
"It's a tradition. I always do this. It feels more like Christmas," said Ott, of Cherry Hill, waiting with his son-in-law, Craig Mannon, 31. He also had some more mall miles to log, Mannon admitted.
About 17 million people are rushing to cross items off their holiday lists on Christmas Eve, according to a National Retail Federation estimate.
Even Santa may have been running late. At his mall photo kiosk outside Macy's entrance, parents and fidgety kids waited for the big guy, whose chair was conspicuously empty.
Lindsey Edens, of Marlton, said she had called the mall and was told he would be there at 8. But now one of his helpers said Santa would arrive at 9.
Why the last-minute visit with Santa, who surely has more pressing things to do today than pose with anxious little ones?
"Mommy and Daddy are busy," said Edens, whose husband, Chris, held six-month-old Zoey, dressed in a frilly plaid dress, while 18-month Gemma, wearing red, stood by her mother's side.
Behind them, Milar Steiner and her four kids, along with two other families, said they have their Santa pictures taken every year at this time.
"It's a tradition," Steiner said. Afterwards, it's back home to cook a big family dinner.
Though retailers nationally have reported a dull December following double-digit sales increases in November, Cherry Hill stores said the season has been strong overall, said Lisa Wolstromer, mall marketing director.
Extended hours and even round-the-clock shopping at Macy's over the weekend helped retailers pick up the pace. The extreme shopping ends at 6 tonight, though nationally Target is hanging in until 9 and Barnes & Noble and Toys "R" Us until 10.
Volunteers from Camden County chapter of Hadassah, a Jewish woman's organization that wraps gifts to raise money for hospitals and medical research in Jerusalem, will be, ah, wrapping up at 6 after one of their busiest seasons ever.
"When people say there's a recession, I tell them not at Cherry Hill Mall," said Caroline Ross, who chairs the gift-wrap committee and was one of eight on duty on Christmas Eve.
But for some shoppers, there's never enough time.
Brittney Baron, 18, a college freshman from Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood, started her gift-buying in July. But with less than 24 hours left, there whe was, still going in and out of stores.
"I go every year on Christmas Eve and it's madness," said a cheerful Baron. "It gets me in the Christmas spirit."