Steve Netsky

is a native Philadelphian who lives in Cambridge, Mass.

When I called my dad on the first night of Hanukkah a few years ago, I mentioned that we had just lit the menorah and given our daughter her first present. I didn't mention that there was a Christmas tree shining at me from across the living room.

My family never was very religious, but we celebrated the holidays - and even though Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, it looms large for children. My wife isn't very religious either, but, born a Presbyterian, she likes to have a Christmas tree. The Christmas tree itself looms large in our living room.

The first year she told me we were going to get one, I was kind of shocked.

Then she brought it home, and I had to drag the thing up two flights of stairs and through some suddenly narrow doorways. "I'm gonna need some help carrying up the menorah," I said, envisioning something like the standard bearer for equal time they put up in a nearby park next to a Paul Bunyonesque Santa Claus.

Of course, menorahs are usually small candle holders that - in size, at least - can't hold a candle to a Christmas tree. But there are some advantages to Hanukkah and the menorah. To counter the display of gifts under the tree, Hanukkah offers children more than a week of nightly presents - or, as I overheard someone in a pizzeria explain to his coworker: "Those people party for eight days!"

Also, you don't run into post-Hanukkah syndrome, where someone goes on lighting the menorah into March. We've all seen those Christmas lights that continue to shine through Valentine's Day and come very close to illuminating the Easter Bunny.

Even if you don't keep the Christmas lights on too long, there is that moment - for us it's around Jan. 2 - when you realize that there is a large dead tree in your living room. By contrast, you just put the menorah away on a shelf until next year.

In the Hanukkah spirit that night, I was reminiscing with my dad. I asked him if he still had the old menorah my brothers and I grew up with.

"Yes," he said. "I have that one and two others. One has klezmer musicians on it and the other is a Joan of Arc menorah."

"Dad," I said. "Are you sure it's a Joan of Arc menorah? I'm pretty sure she wasn't Jewish - in fact, she's a saint. You might want to take a look at that menorah."

He came back to the phone a little while later and said: "OK, it's a Noah's Ark menorah."

For a minute there, I thought I had an opening to tell him about the Christmas tree.

E-mail Steve Netsky at stenet10@comcast.net.