Red and green accessories are the closest Emmy, the writer’s daughter, gets to Christmas.
Photo illustration by Aliya S. King

I’ve been having this Christmas fantasy for a few years now. Tonight my husband and I, along with our two daughters, should be putting the finishing touches on our Christmas tree, wrapping last-minute gifts and watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in matching brand-new pajamas while sipping hot chocolate.

I never had that experience growing up, and neither has Emmy. I was raised in a household that didn’t celebrate Christmas, and while my husband did grow up celebrating the holiday, he wasn’t enthusiastic enough about it to continue the tradition when we married and had children.

This year I really want to celebrate Christmas. Not because I’m Christian. (I’m not.) But just because it seems like such a fun way to connect with family, like Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa. Also, even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, I end up shopping for presents anyway. I have certain family members, co-workers and neighbors who give us gifts each year, and we feel like we should reciprocate. If I’m going to fight the crowds for Christmas shopping, why not include gifts for my husband, parents, siblings and children in the shopping as well?

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Another major part of why I feel the pull is that I know Emmy feels left out during this time of year. When you’re 8 years old and you don’t have a Christmas tree with presents underneath, it feels as if the entire world celebrates the holiday except you. When people ask her if she’s looking forward to Christmas, I see her give the same forced, closed-mouth smile-and-nod that I gave to people who asked me the same question when I was 8 years old. (I learned quickly that telling people you didn’t celebrate Christmas was complicated. People would drop their mouths in horror, and it became easier to just nod when asked. Clearly, Emmy has experienced the same thing.)

So far I haven’t caved on Christmas, for a few reasons. First, the holiday has become too commercialized and focused on elaborate gift giving, something I don’t want Emmy to become accustomed to. Second, we’re not Christians. I know there are people who are nonreligious who hang stockings, exchange gifts, and buy and decorate a tree. But I’m conflicted about the idea of doing that. Is it disrespectful to the Christian religion to celebrate only part of what is intended to be a religious holiday recognizing the birth of Christ?

With all my thoughts on the subject, I still feel my resolve weakening as I get older. I hear a voice in my head saying, What’s the big deal? Buy a tree and decorate it. It’s more an American tradition than it is a Christian religious holiday …

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This year, I’m holding fast. Next year? There’s a pretty good chance there will be stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Aliya S. King, a native of East Orange, N.J., is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives with her husband and two daughters in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com