Colored lights and tinsel add a twinkle to the drab store windows, but holiday shoppers' spirits often sink once they scour aisles of shoddy goods and gasp at the prices.

For many Poles, this year's Christmas rush through rainy streets under leaden skies caps a year of economic and political discontent.Constant price increases and inflation have eroded the value of the zloty and shortages send shoppers scampering to better stocked stores in nearby Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

The authorities have tried to stock the markets before the three-day Christmas holiday that starts with "Wigilia," or "Vigil," - the traditional 12-dish meatless meal that begins when the first star appears on the evening of Dec. 24.

Thousands of people crowded the cavernous hall at Warsaw's Hala Mirowska market Friday amid piles of oranges, nuts, and prunes. Outside, trucks unloaded Christmas trees and farmers sold spruce garlands from the country.