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Fatimah Ali: Making a joyful noise

EVERY year at this time, instead of endlessly shopping, I count my blessings of the last 12 months and eagerly anticipate the ones to come in the new year.

EVERY year at this time, instead of endlessly shopping, I count my blessings of the last 12 months and eagerly anticipate the ones to come in the new year.

But while these meditations on appreciation may work for me, they're of less consolation to my children, who yearn, in their youthful way, to receive the same material rewards - meaning gifts - that their friends get.

Despite the fact that my children consider it almost sacrilegious that we refuse to spend shameless amounts of money on Christmas, we don't budge from our position that we don't celebrate the holiday.

For weeks now, we've been bombarded with their envious tales about the endless Christmas lists that their friends have submitted to Santa.

But in our house, we celebrate Kwanzaa, not Christmas. For one thing, that's because we're Muslim and Christmas certainly isn't an Islamic holiday. But even if we did celebrate it, we believe that Christmas spending has gotten way out of hand.

My husband and I try to teach our children that if they count their blessings first, they won't feel so envious. Not surprisingly, that strategy rarely works, and year after year, we endure their endless whining.

But this year, especially due to the economy, many people are cutting back on the gift-giving side of Christmas, even some who wholeheartedly embrace the holiday. While channel-surfing the other day, I came across a news story about a group of ministers protesting the commercialism of the Christmas holiday.

They haven't abolished that side of Christmas completely, but they said they want to focus more on the birth of Jesus and not the "shop till you drop" part. "We're not saying you can't have gifts at all," a spokeswoman told the reporter. But they recommend less commercialism and more handmade gifts or home-baked ones instead.

Some cities are also cutting back on Christmas spending. According to a report on MSNBC, Chicago cut the size of its usual 90-foot tree in half, while Fresno, Calif., canceled its tree-lighting ceremony because the city can't afford it.

I'm not trying to be a Scrooge.

I get misty-eyed remembering the beautiful Christmases my parents and grandparents gave my two sisters and me when we were growing up.

But it's tough being different, and there's a lot of pressure for kids who don't experience the holiday which traditionally indulges them with tons of "things." Even though I've tried to teach my children about the dangers of the commercialism in Christmas, they are constantly bombarded by what their peers get, think - and have.

A friend of ours dropped by recently to collect the ladder we'd borrowed, and when we asked him if he was ready for the holidays, he grimaced and said he's still paying for last Christmas.

He said he just hands his wife his credit card and they spend about $2,500 a year on presents and a feast on Christmas Day.

That's just not the way we do it. My kids will never get anything like that because we just don't believe in it, even though I do have a twinge for them and all of the other children whose families just don't celebrate Christmas - and feel the consequences.

Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration that starts the day after Christmas, isn't a religious holiday, nor is it a replacement for Christmas. Some folks do celebrate both, but, for us, Kwanzaa is a cultural reminder of who we are as African-Americans, and it's a way to celebrate the traditions of our ancestors. The gifts here are about creativity and giving books and games to increase their knowledge about their heritage.

The other day, my eldest daughter called, stressed about getting the right tree for her children. I suggested an environmentally friendly tabletop tree that can live through the year. "It'll be a lesson for the kids in going green," I said. But she insisted it would be too different from what all of her children's friends had.

I admit that I miss Christmas- shopping because I love spending money on my children and making them happy. But not celebrating Christmas does have its rewards, especially because we don't find ourselves paying for it well into next year.

Fatimah Ali is a journalist, media consultant and an associate member of the Daily News editorial board.