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They not only announced the birth of Christ to the woman who would be his mother but heralded the event en masse, according to scripture.

How large the "multitude of heavenly hosts" who praised God that first Christmas has never been chronicled. But numerous representations of angels - of every type, size and form - are far and away the best-selling religious/inspirational item along the Wasatch Front this Christmas.Retailers are not surprised. What began last year as a trend with best-selling books has moved beyond curiosity into the realm of a cultural fascination with the heavenly beings.

Utahns are obviously no exception.

A Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, conducted in June, showed that 69 percent of Utahns believe in guardian angels, and 32 percent said they have had some type of a personal experience that leads them to believe or disbelieve. Further, 66 percent said if they did have a personal experience with an angel, they would share it with others.

Richard Paul Evans understands that sentiment. The local advertising executive sat down to write a Christmas book for his two daughters and said the story started to come to him "as if someone were giving it to me."

After repeated episodes of having pieces of the story come to his mind, he finally put all of the pieces together early one morning. "It was about my little sister, Sue, who had died, and the pain my mother felt at her loss. As I sat at the table I could feel her presence, and I then knew where the story had come from."

The book, not surprisingly, includes the appearance and comfort of an angel.

After Evans self-published "The Christmas Box" for the first time last year, orders far outstripped the limited supply. This year, the paperback is the holiday season's best seller in religious/inspirational titles at local bookstores.

Kim Kirchgasler, manager of Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Murray, and Tim Boman, district manager for Media Play, agree that the national fascination with angels, combined with the local flavor of "The Christmas Box," have helped make it a best seller.

The book is one of as many as 40 titles now out chronicling encounters with the heavenly beings, Kirchgasler said. The deluge of angel books is "a carry-over from last year. There's a lot more out there this year, and they're selling very well. Any Christmas or holiday-related religious books tend to sell well." Another top seller is Og Mandino's "12th Angel," he said.

Sharon Young, manager of Catholic Center Gifts and Books downtown, said angels are also a major seller in religious bookstores.

"We sell everything from a $1 angel pin - we buy them by the gross - all the way up to beautiful (statuary) collector pieces that are $150 to $300," she said.

Young noticed some interest in angels last year but said the trend has exploded.

"I went to the Los Angeles gift show this year, and there were angels everywhere . . . Every booth you went to had some form of an angel. You know those angel pins - you can find them in a zillion different varieties," she said.

Most of the portrayals she has seen "are very tasteful. What we try to do here is make sure that the emphasis is on God. We're very careful how we approach that and don't carry every kind of angel there is."

Generations of LDS missionaries have worn tie tacks with the Angel Moroni - which adorns the spires of LDS temples - as a personal symbol of their faith.

Now an endless array of angel pins and earrings are sold on a massive scale in department and specialty stores nationwide.

The craze isn't limited to books and jewelry.

Another local artist has seen brisk sales in his new "angelic" music. Kurt Bestor's "Evening Angels" is "doing very well," Boman said.

If you want to put music and words together in your quest to learn more about the heavenly inhabitants, WEA Visual Entertainment is offering a CD-ROM package "Angels: The Mysterious Messengers," for $39.95.

The package allows you "to see and hear true stories of people whose lives have been touched by angels," and features "famous movie clips and interviews with angel experts."

Classic movies featuring angels abound at Christmas time - whether in the form of "Charlie" saving Jimmy Stewart from an icy grave in "It's a Wonderful Life" or Scrooge's visitors convincing him to be a better man.

Whether the move to embrace heavenly messengers year-round continues or dies quietly in the shadow of some new national sensation, they've lent their wings to retailers this year, gathering unprecedented crowds to the cash register.