MADISON, Wis. -

Local shoppers continued to look for just the right gift at the last minute on Christmas Eve, even as the so-called "fiscal cliff" threatens to curtail consumer confidence in the new year.

Members of Congress, on holiday break, will return this week to continue negotiations over avoiding the cliff, which would mean automatic tax increases for everyone and across-the-board spending cuts.

"This uncertainty is a killer for the economy, just when we were bouncing back," said Moses Altsech, a marketing professor at Edgewood College. "If you think about how many years it took consumer confidence and business confidence to come back, now it could just disappear."

Shoppers continued to spend without fear of the cliff, even as newspaper USA Today called it "The Night Before Cliffmas."

Nick Haley came to Hilldale Shopping Center in Madison with plans to buy some gifts for his wife -- if only he could send her to a different part of the mall so he could buy in secret.

"It's been a good year and definitely with kids (ages) 3 and 1, you tend to want to do more for them at that age," said Haley, of Madison. "It's a really special time for us."

The mall's Santa said most kids are asking for Legos, Barbie dolls and other perennial gifts.

But the consumer comeback might face challenges in the new year, if taxes increase without a deal in Washington.

"Everybody's going to feel it," Altsech said. "Sooner or later, even the people who aren't paying attention right now, they're going pay attention because it's going hit them where it hurts."