He has soft brown curls and milky cream skin and he looks more like an angel than the one in the family creche. Christian Patrizia doesn't remember last Christmas too well, but now that he's 3 years old, he says, "I know what it's all "bout."

Surprisingly, he mentions nothing of presents, of Transformers, not even of Santa Claus. He stands in his Alexandria living room next to his lit, freshly cut Christmas tree and says: "It's the Baby Jesus' Birfday."

Bombarded with the worldly Christmas, the shove-and-push shopping malls where skinny Santas point to shiny microwaves and wish you a "Merry Christmas" and tell you, "We take Visa," the Patrizias work hard to keep their Christian Christmas alive.

Although they are a middle-class family, living in a three-story Victorian colonial house where Russell and Braddock roads join in Alexandria, the Patrizias' restrict their spending at Christmas.

Charles Patrizia, the executive assistant and legal adviser to Ambassador-at-Large Richard Fairbanks, and his wife, Kathryn, an educational consultant, buy only one gift for each of their three boys. As Kathryn, 34, said, "It's so they know it [Christmas] means more than just presents."

Sparing on toys, they are spendthrifts on time and tradition.

The family gathers for Bible readings, hymns and talks on each of the four Sundays of Advent, the Christian season of reflection preceding December 25. Chas Patrizia, 7, reads from the New Testament and, with Christian, shares the privilege of lighting the next candle on the Advent wreath.John-Peter, 7 weeks, observes.

Each day, Chas and Christian cut out an ox or angel, shepherd or king, from a children's religious calendar and add them to a nativity scene they will complete on Christmas morning.

"They [family and religious traditions] give stability to the family and a set of values to the kids," said Charles Patrizia, 34. He sits beside the fireplace and the hand-embroidered stockings hung from the mantel. The Nutcracker Suite fills the air.

"There is so much imposed from the outside," Patrizia said. "We don't want them to associate Christmas with Cabbage Patch dolls."

"Look at him," Christian said, referring to a cutout, myrrh-laden paper king he is holding.

Julia Ford, Kathryn's 68-year-old mother visiting for the holidays from Florida, recalled bringing up her children in a Brooklyn parish.

A professional violinist whose husband was the church organist, she remembered Christmas the family taught a group of nuns to polka.

"You don't realize when it's happening, but it's the things around the holidays you seem to always remember."

"When our parents were growing up, it was easier to keep religion and custom alive. You had support from the neighbors," said Charles Patrizia, who grew up in an Italian Catholic neighborhood in Pennsylvania. "Now it takes a little more effort."

Jocie Kazanjian, a neighbor and friend, says she still cannot believe "all the little things, like out of an old-fashioned movie, that the Patrizias do. How does anyone have time in this fast pace?"

They bake homemade breads, Charles kneading dough for Italian panettone and Kathryn, for Polish kulich. Last Christmas, they invited 85 people for a Christmas caroling-storytelling party.

Two weeks ago they organized a home mass in memory of a neighbor, Col. Abram Henry Rosenfeld, who had died.

The widow, Mary Agnes O'Neill Rosenfeld, 78, said the Patrizias "are remarkable among young people." She spent Christmas dinner last year with them. "It was a very cold day outside and inside for me; the only warm thing was the Patrizias."

Father Thoms Gavigan, a priest at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown and a friend of the family, says he is seeing more young families becoming actively involved in church and family activities.

During last Sunday's mass, more than a hundred children filled the altar with toys at the part of the mass called the offertory.

"We had three truckloads of presents to bring to children in the low-income housing development in Northeast," he said.

Other families went Christmas caroling armed with a hymn book and a list of shut-in elderly. "Maybe it's a reaction to all the commercialism and the breakup of families," Gavigan said, "But I'm much impressed with the families I'm seeing now."

"A kind act," Gavigan said, makes Christmas.