NEW YORK – Packed malls? Healthy gains in holiday spending? It’s beginning to look at least a little like a pre-recession Christmas.

Americans spent more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture, delivering healthy gains across the board, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash.

The online category continued to be a bright spot. The big exception was consumer electronics, dragged down by deep discounting of TVs amid a glut. That area was virtually unchanged from a year ago.

“This is the first normal Christmas in three years,” said Michael McNamara, SpendingPulse’s vice president of research and analysis. He cited “genuine demand” for a variety of products, even higher-ticket items.

Sales of clothing rose 9.8 percent, with particular strength in men’s clothing. Jewelry revenue rose 2.6 percent and furniture rose 3.4 percent, according to SpendingPulse, whose data covered the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday compared with the same period a year ago.

Malls reported higher traffic over the weekend, including the Saturday before Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Research firm ShopperTrak expects it will be the third-busiest this year.

The strong numbers are encouraging to retailers, who only this fall remained worried that the inventory they ordered earlier in the year when the economic recovery looked stronger might end up being too much.

But after a slowdown in spending this summer, spending has picked up amid more positive economic signs. McNamara said there’s no evidence of emergency discounting and stores have appropriate levels of inventory.

Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report, a retail insiders’ newsletter, said the spending stems from three factors: consumers have been paying down their debt slightly, the savings rate has decreased slightly, and working hours have increased, partly due to seasonal demand.

“Those three things put a few more bucks in their pocket,” which becomes signficant combined with pent-up demand.

At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the nation’s largest mall, Public Relations Director Dan Jasper said a big storm the weekend before that closed the mall early had shoppers flocking to the mall to catch up. Preliminary reports showed 200,000 people came to the mall Saturday, making it one of its busiest days ever and the busiest day so far this year.