Early in our marriage Lindsay and I decided we would "unplug the Christmas Machine," which is clergy-speak for keeping Christmas as a religious celebration rather than a commercial holiday.
Like many people of faith I don't much like the commercialization of Christmas. I actively dislike the trend to "expand" the holiday shopping season by putting up Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween or Thanksgiving. Merchants call this "season treason" and say it makes them money. I don't care. I don't like it at all. One year I sent out Christmas cards that wished everyone a "Merry Peak Judeo-Christian Retail Season" to make it clear how far from the spirit of Christmas I thought things had gotten.
Everyone really loved the cards, but I didn't like being that much of a curmudgeon.
For my wife and me, Christmas is a simple, deeply-felt affair. Charles Dickens was a member of my denomination and his "A Christmas Carol" where Scrooge learns to "keep" Christmas by finding its meaning in his heart is something we believe. We try to "keep" Christmas at our household by making it a time for charity and affection.
We send carefully-selected Christmas cards to family members and a few intimate friends. We give gifts, but only to family or those like family, and the gifts are low key. Usually the gifts we give come from the bookstore or gourmet shop. We give generously to select holiday charities.
We do have a Christmas tree, but it's small. It's actually an artificial half-tree that hangs on the wall out of the reach of cats. We decorate it with handmade ornaments we've collected over the years. We can tell you the story behind each one.
Mostly, our holiday centers around the Advent Wreath that is on top of our Dining Room table. As the Sundays in Advent count down to Christmas, we light one of the candles until all four are ablaze. I make the wreath myself, and add fresh-baked cookies to the center as the season advances. I follow an old Norse recipe for the cookies, and make them in traditional shapes: rooster, boar, horseman, hunter, a spinning wheel, a tree and a man and woman.
On Christmas Eve we both get home late from our church services. I serve up mugs of hot mulled cider, we open any gifts, put on Christmas music and let the holiday lights shine into the night. Christmas Day will feature a late breakfast with fresh baked pastry and for dinner I roast a traditional goose and serve it up with a flaming fruit sauce. I don't miss the commercial things because God has blessed us, and knowing that is what really matters in the "keeping" of Christmas.