My nine-year-olds, whose mother is half-Christian and who celebrate Christmas, may be really interested in finding out why Christmas always falls on the 25th day of December, and comparing that with Hanukkah's firm date on the Jewish calendar, the 25th of Kislev.

And what about the connection between Hanukkah's timing and that of older and other holidays, all of them framed by the lunar phases: Great-Grandma Winter Solstice, for example. Or Diwali in late fall, which always begins on the dark night of a new moon. Perhaps most important for my family to understand, I believe, is Eid, the conclusion of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, which marks the reappearance of the crescent moon and derives its name from the promising cycle of light: "that which comes back, time after time, and rejoicing."

In fact, I think it is time for my children to learn a little Arabic with their Hebrew, to hear the sister tongue beneath the brothers' quarrel: salaam and shalom (`greetings, peace'); tzedakah and sadaquah or zakah (charity); ner (candle) and nur (light).

Our newest-minted tradition of light is sure to make a comeback this year. Last Hanukkah we wound up with multiple small Hanukkah menorahs, called Hanukkiot in Hebrew, because of various school projects and because our four sets of in-laws are paring away their possessions as fast as they can. So now we have one menorah for each member of the family. The more portable and modest ones are even better, especially for Stuart's twins, who often see four sets of relatives in about two weeks' time and like to take their Hanukkah lights to go.

You can make them yourself: We've got Hanukkiot that are homemade clay bars with nine deep depressions, and extra-heavy Popsicle sticks with nine hardware nuts glued on. Whatever the material, the important part in our ritual is to place the lights in our windows for all the neighbors to see.

Once, this was a gesture of defiance and specialness, a marking of doorways similar to the blood-mark of Passover-though it's said an entire village of gentiles in the Old Country once put out the Hanukkah lights of their Jewish brethren to protect them from pogroms.

This year, I'd like our family lights to be a sign of greeting, a going forth and a guiding radiance from our home, five people and 40 lights strong.

_Related Features
  • Beliefnet's Complete Hanukkah features
  • 2005 December Dilemma Watch
  • A Rabbi's Hanukkah Peace Plan