In a holiday shopping spree without credit cards, checks or cash, some 400 people jammed into the old Ashland armory to drop of stuff they no longer want — and grab new stuff they can put under the Christmas tree for others.

In a holiday shopping spree without credit cards, checks or cash, some 400 people jammed into the old Ashland armory to drop of stuff they no longer want — and grab new stuff they can put under the Christmas tree for others.

It was the seventh annual Abundance Swap and, in the words of its originator Jeff Golden, "We created it because the 5 a.m. holiday shopping frenzies at the mall seemed so off-track with the meaning of the holiday and we wanted a way to hold onto the gift-giving but without the frenzy."

In three shifts, according to the color of their name tag, people got to cruise the many aisles of free stuff, most of it garage-sale caliber, but always holding out treasures — that special book or CD, oodles of kitchen wares, colorful clothing, framed art, cocktail glasses, a metal detector, a driftwood table, boom boxes and costume jewelry.

"It's a wonderful way to let go of items," said Amy Warn, who was offering a serving set. "I found this amazing wool knit cap from Chile, with the tag still on, for my boyfriend."

"I loved it. I got place mats for my sister in Santa Fe and a bunch of thank-you cards," Joany Franklin said. "I've been getting out of the whole consumer thing, just don't like it, so this is great and I love the friendly community event."

Bill Kauth, one of the event's creators, said 15 to 20 other cities have gone to the Abundance Swap's Web site www.abundanceswap.org, and learned how to stage the event.

"When you create an opportunity for people to get together without spending money, it feels wonder and they're doing what they love most, being with other people," he said.

Kaia Hilson, "shopping" with her small daughter, Maggie, said she was able to find gifts for the entire family — a big help in a depressed economy.

Trying on a viking helmet, Jonnie Dale Rieberman noted she'd donated a nice Eddie Bauer sweater, some brand new sandals and a Lego set — and had her eye on some dragon books.

"It's fun to see what people are giving away and letting someone else enjoy," said Rieberman. "I see a lot of gifts that people got in the past but didn't use."

After netting a collection of classical music CDs, Julie Norman called herself a lover of second-hand stuff who welcomed "this non-consumer side of the holidays."

As the anticipation built for the first round of gift-scooping, Golden told a tale about a wise elder that said he had two wolves inside him, one greedy and one loving and sharing. A youngster, said Golden, asked the wise man which wolf won out. "The one I feed," he replied.

Golden lauded the generosity of attendees in letting go of many clearly valuable goods and joked, "There's also that terrific item in the corner that we have our eye on and we want to get right to it, but remember to take pleasure that someone, if not you, is going to open that terrific present."