I'm looking forward to Christmas—no dread of the busyness, no fear of drowning in the commercialism. I know what Christmas Eve will be like: we'll cut the tree in the afternoon and bring it in and decorate it. We'll go to church, where I will sweat with my Sunday-school class as they try to remember their lines for the pageant, and then I'll relax in the knowledge that it is the small mistakes (the drooping halo, the three-year-old shepherd using his crook as a hockey stick) that really stick most fondly in people's minds. We'll come home, read the Christmas story once more, put up our stockings, and go to bed. In the morning, we'll open the stockings and find the candies and pencils and tiny jokes inside; we'll exchange one or two homemade presents—photo albums, raspberry jam made in the summer's heat—and then we'll go outside to play in the snow, or into the kitchen, cooking for the great dinner ahead. In other words, a completely normal Christmas minus the mounds of presents.

The story of how my family arrived at this quiet and beloved Christmas (which means, of course, a much quieter December than most of our friends experience, without a single trip to the mall, and a January without a credit-card debt) has to do with many things: with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, with our worries about what a consumer culture meant for our daughter—and with the conviction, nurtured by our church, that there was more real joy to be had from Christmas if only we could unplug it: more real connections with that glad day in the past, and more real hope for a troubled future.

To understand what I mean, you need to begin by looking hard at what we've done to this ...

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