Under the tree lies the latest super-hyper-magna-mega toy. The wrapping is torn off at the speed of light, the lid is lifted with a whoosh. Three words bring all the excitement to a screeching halt: "Batteries Not Included."
From radios to tape recorders to cameras to toys, industry figures estimate Americans spend about $2 billion a year to keep more than a billion battery-operated products going.
The largest seller in both the rechargeable and disposable battery categories is the AA type, used mostly in small flashlights, radios, toys, photo equipment, electronic games and calculators.
Other popular sizes are the D battery for portable TVs, radio, toys and photo equipment; C for flashlights, radios, recorders; 9-volt for smoke alarms, electronic games and calculators and AAA for small flashlights, radios and toys.
One manufacturer is charging into the holiday season with the idea that batteries are not only what make gifts go, they make good gifts themselves.
"Each year, millions of battery-operated gifts are given by friends, relatives and loved ones," said a representative for Eveready, one of the nation's leading battery manufacturers. "So why not make them a fun and acceptable gift to give?"
Eveready is marketing "Gift Mates," alkaline batteries in sizes AA, C and D, in holiday and other patterns.
The holiday line, available from October to December only, includes pictures of Santa Claus, snowmen, ornaments and the phrase "Season's Greetings." The general line, available all year, include "Happy Birthday," balloons, crayons and other designs.
"You might find them in stockings at Christmas, or tied to the top of packages with ribbons," said the representative. "Finally, consumers can be thoughtful in buying batteries."
Another option for consumers to keep the power on is the rechargeable nickel-cadmium battery.
"Research indicates that, with the increased usage of high-drain devices, such as portable radio-tape players, televisions and computer toys, it is too expensive for consumers to keep all these products operating with costly 'throwaway' batteries," said John T. Gray, president of Philips Home Products.
"Rechargeable batteries, which can be used over and over again for approximately 1,000 chargings, are more economical for repeated use," he said.