Ramadan is celebrated by 1 billion Muslims worldwide. But if you’re not one of them, you may not know what the holiday is about. From being kind to those less fortunate, to putting a cap on lying, the holiday has a lot of great principles to offer—no matter what your religion.

First, the basics: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which was first penned in about 600 A.D. The Islamic calendar is lunar, not solar, and unlike a holiday like Christmas (which falls on the same date every year) Ramadan begins on a different date each year—whenever the first sliver of the crescent moon, in the ninth month, appears.

For kids, the most striking thing about Ramadan is the fasting. People who celebrate the holiday eat only when it’s dark outside. From the first light of dawn, until the sun goes down, Muslims don’t eat or drink anything. For kids, the concept of no food can be hard to swallow! But not eating anything gives Muslims time to focus on other things.

For example, during Ramadan, celebrants spend more time with family. They pledge not to tell any lies, not to gossip, and not to be greedy. Those too sick or too old to fast are asked to feed one needy person each day of the month. And everyone who celebrates Ramadan is asked to do as many good deeds as they possibly can over the course of the holiday.

“The prophet Muhammad was very generous at all times, but in some portions of the scripture it says that he was generous like the wind during the month of Ramadan,” says Mohamed El-sanousi, Director of Community Outreach and Communications for the Islamic Society of America, the largest umbrella group of Muslims in the U.S. “This is a month of giving. Of healing and caring. It is a time for people to remember those who are less fortunate and an opportunity to reinforce the spiritual reasons behind fighting hunger and poverty,” he says. Even if you don’t celebrate Ramadan, here are a few things you can do to teach your kids a little more about it:

  • Be kind to others. Sure, Santa may not be looking to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice for another few months. And trying to get into the “good book” for Yom Kippur isn’t for several more weeks. But every day is a good day to teach your kids the importance of helping others.  This is a key principle of Ramadan. Here are three sites to get your kids started:

www.randomkid.org  www.doinggoodtogether.org  www.buildingwithbooks.org

  • Make more time for the people you love. During Ramadan, people make an extra effort to visit with friends and family. Make it a point to plan get-togethers with the people in your life that are most important. Drop in on an elderly relative. Invite all the cousins over for Family Fridays all month long. Use Ramadan to jumpstart a regular routine of visiting with friends and family and teach your kids that keeping those ties strong should be a major goal all year long.
  • Plan dinner in the dark. Pick a day during the month to show your kids what it would be like to celebrate Ramadan.  Invite them to fast for the day, or for a portion of it. Then plan a special dinner for after sunset. “The tradition is to break the fast with dates, water, and milk,” says El-sanousi, “That is the same for all. But the dinner afterwards is very different from culture to culture within the Islamic community. People from the Middle East might eat fattoush. People from South Asia might have biryani. Some cultures might have bread and curry.” Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Fattoush Salad

What You Need:

  • 1 cup tomatoes (either cherry tomatoes cut in half, or regular tomatoes cut into chunks)
  • 1 cup cucumber: peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 6 cups of hearts of romaine, torn 2 pita breads
  • 2/3 cup- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (to taste)

For Dressing:

  • 3 or more garlic cloves (put through garlic press, or mashed with mortar and pestle)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sumac powder
  • Sea salt and pepper (to taste)

What You Do:

  1. Toast 2 large pitas in a 375-degree oven until golden brown and crispy.
  2. Let cool and break into ½ inch pieces.
  3. Mix the above ingredients with the pita.
  4. Then, mix the dressing and pour it over the top.

Lentil Soup

What You Need:

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 lb. red lentils
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice

What You Do:

  1. Put the chicken stock and lentils into a big saucepan and bring them to a boil.
  2. Cover and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the garlic and onion until they’re translucent.
  4. Stir the mixture into the lentils and season with the spices.
  5. Continue simmering for about 10 more minutes, until the lentils are soft.
  6. Once everything is cooked, puree in a blender or food processor.
  7. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro right before serving. Enjoy!