Wise men buy frankincense

They were the first Christmas gifts, and they're back. Frankincense and myrrh are essential ingredients in some of the luxury gifts on sale this Christmas. Bath oils, room fragrances and eau de toilette containing the two are among the items that top stores such as Liberty in London's Regent Street have on their shelves.

The upmarket giftshop and parfumiers Czech & Speake, in nearby Jermyn Street, is selling its Frankincense and Myrrh range of fragrances, including burning sticks (pounds 13), a cologne spray (pounds 42/100ml), or a frankincense and myrrh soap bar (pounds 6), while Liberty is offering an pounds 11.95 bottle of Aesop's aromatherapy oil with frankincense.

Some present buyers are falling back on that other luxurious standby favoured by the Wise Men, gold.

Crown jewellers Garrard is reporting a roaring trade in chunky gold hoop earrings at pounds 525, while at Tiffany in Bond Street the top of the gift list are a gold pendant called the Eternal Circle, designed by Elsa Peretti, and a small open heart pendant in silver. The gold version costs pounds 750, the silver pounds 145.

While children are clamouring for Buzz Lightyear toys, the must-have gift for adults this year is a mobile phone, not because it's chic but because owners find it reassuring in a dangerous world.

Companies such as the Carphone Warehouse have put together a "Peace of Mind" package. It offers a choice of six phones, 12 months' free line rental and free calls up to pounds 6.50 a month for a year, and costs pounds 199. Last Saturday alone the company made 5,000 connections, mainly for gifts.

Spending on Christmas this year is thought to be at its highest since the peak of the consumer boom in 1988, and is expected to reach pounds 23.5bn, up pounds 700m on last year.

Other popular items include small Calvin Klein knickers, which have sold out at Harvey Nichols, as have items by American designer Tommy Hilfiger. At Waterstones, staff can't get enough copies of Longitude by Dava Sobel, the book about the development of naval chronometers. Last week the chain sold 2,000 copies. At rival bookshop chain Dillons, the bestseller is The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett, closely followed by My Grand Prix Diary by Damon Hill.

Electrical stores such as Comet and Dixons report the continuing fad for Sony Playstations. This year's package with the games Mortal Kombat III and Formula One is pounds 269.97, and demand is unwavering. Shoppers are also spending to replace their standard television sets with those with a wide screen and surround sound.

Other popular gifts for adults this year include the Spice Girls album, videos of Trainspotting and Babe, Marks & Spencer's satin shirts for both men and women, and anything with a dalmatian print, be it a lampshade, a pair of tights or a hat.

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