In the Orthodox Church the weeks before Christmas were used especially by monastics as a quiet period to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ. It was a time of prayer and fasting as the monks and nuns contemplated God’s saving act of becoming incarnate in the Virgin Mary and then being born as the man, Jesus Christ. So the Orthodox traditional preparation for Christmas is quietness and a simplified way of life is in conflict with the American way of anticipating Christmas by an increase in activities: parties, feasting, imbibing in drink, shopping, baking and singing songs about festive activities. In the early centuries of Christianity, there was a period of fasting that lasted a few days before Christmas with the liturgical celebration of the Nativity of Christ being followed by days of feasting. Historians note that in the ancient Studite monastic practice, Christmas Eve was originally part of the celebration and kept by the monks as a day of feasting (Job Getcha, THE TYPIKON DECODED, p 131), but eventually as the Sabaite monastic influence prevailed in the Church, Christmas Eve became a strict fast day.
In the 7th Century, the Nativity fast became a 40 day fast, following the pattern of the Great Lent before Pascha. The Nativity Fast however kept a more joyous theme and therefore never acquired the penitential quality of Great Lent (SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS: THE HOMILIES, p 635). So we do see change in both Orthodox and monastic practice over time regarding the Nativity Fast. Currently in Orthodoxy the Nativity Fast begins on November 15. In customary practice outside of monasteries it is often not kept as strictly as Great Lent by the faithful, yet we all are reminded that the Christmas season is a time for us to think about the gift of salvation freely given to us by God in Jesus Christ. God saw the condition of humans in the world of the Fall – impoverished and unhopeful. God’s action is to save us from this fallen condition and to alleviate the suffering inflicted on us by sin and death. We too during this Nativity season can see poverty and hopelessness in our fellow humans; in imitation of God, we can respond in generous love towards those in need. This is the best way to prepare to celebrated Christmas.