While many people dread shopping on Christmas Eve, for Valerie Lewis, of Baton Rouge, it has become an annual tradition.

Lewis said she enjoys shopping for presents at the last minute, because it helps put her in the holiday spirit.

“I like seeing all the people,” said Lewis, who was walking briskly through the Mall of Louisiana on Monday morning, carrying several shopping bags in each hand.

Shoppers remarked that their seemed to be fewer people in the mall Christmas Eve this year than in the past.

“The crowds are not too bad,” said Noel Melancon, of Baton Rouge, who was shopping with her husband, Kevin, and 6-year-old son, Taylor Valentine.

Todd Denton, mall manager, said stores had “a great weekend” so people who traditionally wait until the last minute to finish shopping actually went to the Mall of Louisiana on Saturday or Sunday.

“The people who are Christmas shopping today are the ones who will really buy things for Christmas,” he said. “Of course, the selection may be limited, they may not have items in the size or color they want.”

Denton said mall stores have seen holiday sales increase this year over 2011 by an average of 4 percent to 6 percent. Before Thanksgiving, the National Retail Federation forecast a 4.1 percent increase in this year’s holiday sales.

Apparel and small electronic devices, such as iPads and Kindles, were popular gifts this holiday season, Denton said.

At the Target on Siegen Lane, Joe Truxillo, a manager, said the store has “exceeded expectations” for sales and shopper counts over the holiday season.

“We have been extremely busy,” Truxillo said. Hot sellers at Target include the Nook and “any electronic learning toys,” he said.

Back at the Mall of Louisiana, the Rev. Darrell Owens, of Baton Rouge, said he was spending more on gifts for his family this year than in past years because the economy is doing better. But some things haven’t changed for Owens, who was once again going out to buy presents on Christmas Eve.

“I’m last-minute, every year,” he said.

Angela Owens said unlike her husband, she usually finishes buying Christmas presents in advance of the holiday. But this year, she was delayed by work commitments.

“I’ve still got a few more hours of shopping to do,” she said Monday morning.

Jartavia Turner, 18, of Pride, was wearing a Santa hat and shopping with her 16-year-old cousin, Shada Talbert. This was the third day in a row Turner had been shopping at the Mall of Louisiana, and she said the trip was worth it.

“They have more items out,” she said. “I’m seeing things I didn’t see yesterday or Sunday.”

Taylor Byrd, of Denham Springs, was also shopping with family members: her grandmother Nancy Byrd, and 3-week-old daughter, Dalia. Byrd said she normally finishes shopping for the holiday in advance, but was delayed this year, because of the birth of her daughter.

“I’m spending more than normal, because there are more people in my family now.”

Michelle Legnon, of Baton Rouge, was at the mall, but not to shop. She brought her children Beau and Lilly, both 6, to see Santa Claus. The Legnon children were wearing pajamas.

“They like to wear pajamas when they see Santa,” Legnon said.

Legnon said she was done with Christmas shopping.

“We just got back from Walt Disney World, so we had to be finished shopping by Dec. 14 because that was when we left.”

Although fresh data on the holiday shopping season won’t be available until after Christmas, analysts expect growth nationally from last year to be modest.

Several factors have dampened shoppers’ spirits, including fears that the economy could fall off the “fiscal cliff,” triggering tax increases and spending cuts early next year.

ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country, on Wednesday cut its forecast for holiday spending nationally down to 2.5 percent growth to $257.7 billion, from prior expectations of a 3.3 percent rise.

Online, sales rose 8.4 percent to $48 billion from Oct. 28 through Saturday, according to a measure by MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse. That is below the online sales growth of between 15 to 17 percent seen in the prior 18-month period, according to the data service, which tracks all spending across all forms of payment, including cash.

Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at the market research firm NPD Inc., said retailers will have to be more aggressive than usual with discounts in the days after Christmas to get shoppers to spend.

That could mean some stores will slash prices by as much as 80 percent.

to make shoppers believe the sales are a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“Consumers are going to be rewarded for waiting until after the holidays,” he said.

contributed to this reportThe Associated Press