The BRC says consumer confidence is improving
Retailers enjoyed their best December growth for eight years, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has said.
Like-for-like sales rose 4.2% by value during the month after a last-minute buying spree by shoppers, and a rebound in consumer confidence.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the sales were "stronger figures than we dared hope for".
The improvement comes as a range of retailers have reported buoyant trading over the Christmas period.
The BRC also said the figures were helped by comparison with the "terrible figures" of December 2008.
Snow and freezing weather also boosted demand for winter warmers and sent clothing sales growth to its highest for more than five-and-a-half-years.
The bad weather also encouraged shoppers to buy online, and sites which began their sales on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day also did well.
Food retailers also reported strong sales of premium lines and luxuries.
The performance in the electricals sector was mixed, with shoppers seeking deals in a competitive market.
Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, said retail spending in December would "reinforce belief that the economy exited recession with significant expansion in the fourth quarter of 2009".
The BRC report comes after a string of upbeat Christmas trading reports from retailers.
Poundland saw a 4.4% rise in like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new store openings, over the five weeks to 3 January.
TRADING UPDATES AT A GLANCE
M&S - like-for-like sales up 0.8% in three months to 26 December
John Lewis - revenues of £500.8m in five weeks to 2 January. Like-for-like sales up 12.7%
Next - like-for-like sales up 3.2% in 22 weeks to 24 December
Asda - said it had a 'solid' Christmas
Majestic Wine - like-for-like sales up 11.7% in nine weeks to 4 January
Ocado - like-for-like sales up 30% in four weeks to 26 December
Shop Direct - sales up 6.3% in six weeks to 1 January
Sainsbury's - like-for-like sales up 3.7%, excluding fuel, in the 13 weeks to 2 January.
The Co-operative Group reported a 4.8% increase in sales, excluding fuel, in the 12-week period to 2 January.
Department store group House of Fraser said it had enjoyed its "biggest-ever" Christmas week.
The company said like-for-like sales rose 7.1% in the eight weeks to 2 January.
The latest updates from retailers follow upbeat trading reports from John Lewis, Next and Sainsbury's last week.
Tesco, Debenhams and HMV are also due to update the market this week.
However, the British Retail Consortium has warned that retailers face a tough 2010 as uncertainty about the economy continues.
"After a surprisingly muted November, this is the best total sales growth for a December since 2005 and goes well beyond just making up for the sales fall the sector suffered a year ago," said the BRC's Mr Robertson.
He added: "But, with customers now reacquainting themselves with concerns about jobs and tax rises there is a risk that a healthy December may be only a temporary respite on the painful road to recovery."