Mushrooms in puff pastry. An unlikely symbol of excess, but there they lie in my freezer, a reminder of last Christmas when I went a bit overboard. Our page three feature this issue is about alternatives to what has become for too many of us, a traditional Christmas. (By ‘traditional,’ I mean something quite different from the Dickensian Christmas we often see in holiday films. For me and many others I know, Christmas tradition has come to include filling the freezer with cookies, squares, hors d’oeuvres and fancy pastries that often remain there into Lent, forgotten. It means shopping for toys that are discarded by January and scrambling to attend dinner parties with friends whom we should really see more in the other, calmer 11 months of the year.)Each time I open the freezer, the mushroom appetizers serve as a reminder of how easy it is to get carried away at this time of year. I purchased them last December with good intentions, thinking they would be nice when family or friends dropped by. However, they were forgotten in the embarrassment of riches that we bought, anticipating many evenings of entertaining. In the end, our get-togethers were, in the main, pretty simple affairs. Just a few homemade, gourmet savoury nibbles, no walkways lined with candles, no garland made of fresh cranberries. I don’t remember what we served or what we drank, but I remember the evenings vividly, surrounded by family, all of us – especially the youngest generation – loud and boisterous as we recalled the highlights of earlier celebrations. (Who among us could forget the year we shared a turkey of such epic proportions it will forever be known as Birdzilla?)I wonder what I am teaching my children when I disappear a few nights each week leading up to Christmas, leaving their dad to read to them and tuck them in while I travel around the city, ticking off items from the mental list of tasks: groceries, books, toys, clothes, CDs, DVDs, wine, post office. Mustn’t forget the school teachers, the piano teacher, the newspaper carriers, work colleagues.Why do we do so much?Though my children would be hard pressed to remember what they opened on Christmas morning (we usually can’t recall the gifts either), I know their memories of the Christmas season are of the truly important stuff: my youngest child, finally old enough to perform as a shepherd in last year’s Christmas Eve pageant, carrying her stuffed sheep up the aisle of the church; her older sister slouching by the altar under the weight of her angel wings, singing Happy Birthday to Jesus after the service; waking up on New Year’s Day, pulling on the long johns and going skating at an outdoor rink; meeting up with their cousin at a park and eating hot pizza out in the cold.In our page three feature, we have assembled a list of Web sites and ideas to help all of us keep thing simple this Christmas, and to remember whose birthday we are marking.My family will not forego gift giving altogether. But I am already thinking of smaller ways of doing what we’ve always done. We can frame photographs of the kids for their grandparents or assemble photo albums, either real or online. Home-baked goodies for colleagues and classmates; vouchers for babysitting, car cleaning or snow shoveling. My children will only be too happy to oblige their parents with hand-drawn Christmas cards, pictures of the Nativity and storybooks created at the dining room table.The challenge for me is one of finding the will power to resist the urban, consumer-driven world – the one that immediately replaces Halloween decorations on Nov. 1 with Yuletide glitz and garishness. But with some deliberate thought, it is possible. The memories will be just as rich and, in the end, perhaps we won’t be so poor.