Hanukkah gifts

Posted by Yevgeni Kuritski on 7th Dec 2014

Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights is the time when Jews celebrate the miracle of the oil which was supposed to last for just one day and instead lasted for eight days in the Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BC.

Despite the meaning of the holiday, people did not exchange gifts on this occasion until the 19th century when a shift in pattern occurred. Until that moment in time, the Purim was the only holiday when people would present each other with gifts. In addition to this, according to authors such as Jonathan Sarma, the 19th and 20th century consumerism and the shine laid upon the celebration of Christmas everywhere, might have influenced the choice of offering gifts on Hanukkah.

Another important element regarding the origin of gifts on Hanukkah is provided by Eliezer Segal, who claims that in some Jewish communities, families began sending money on the occasion of the Hanukkah to those scholars teaching their sons the Torah. It was customary for these scholars not to be paid for their services and these sums of money would be received as a gift.

Nowadays, the invasion of the market with all sorts of products, be they symbolic of the holiday or not, has opened a wide array of choices to Jewish parents. This is especially true of the 1950s, when Hanukkah was seen as a Jewish Christmas and the presents were used as a means of making the post-Holocaust Jewish children happy.

In some cases, parents might choose to offer gifts on every night of Hanukkah. However, it is very important to highlight the fact that not all gifts have the same origin. One might come from parents, one from grandparents, another from uncles or godparents, one from friends and so on. Also, it is important that the received gifts have an educational and learning dimension helping children develop skills and abilities which could be helpful later in life.

Firstly, there is the possibility of providing children with money on this occasion. 18 is a special number in Judaism so the sum of money can comprise any multiple of 18.

Secondly, parents might choose to offer their children books and board games which could involve the entire family.

Thirdly, Hanukkah gifts for kids might consist of ritual objects in miniature sizes and richly decorated to appeal to children. Thus, popular gifts might be the following: small dreidels, Tzedakah boxes, pieces of jewelry with Judaic symbols, pieces of garment bearing the same symbols which would help them learn about their culture and its values in an easier and funnier way, toy menorahs in various shapes and decorations, colorful Hanukkah candles which could be placed on the menorah and lit by children themselves without any danger of them hurting themselves, etc.

But Hanukkah gifts are not just for kids, they can be offered to anyone: men, women, old people, friends or family. As far as adults are concerned, Hanukkah gifts can be more meaningful than the ones for kids, as they could be more relevant to the Judaic culture and its values and precepts.

Thus, one can receive dreidels, Tzedakah boxes, beautifully embellished candles to be used either for the lighting of the menorah or on Shabbat and other holidays, richly decorated mezuzah, particular editions of the Torah, artistically decorated tefillin, etc.

Among the most popular gifts for women on Hanukkah are, of course, pieces of jewelry. Thus, one can offer the women in his life gold and silver necklaces, pendants, earrings, and bracelets decorated with well-known Judaic symbols such as the Star of David, the Hamsa Hand, the Evil Eye and the Tree of Life, among others. Other gifts may contain home decorations, kitchenware, cosmetics and perfumes.

When it comes to finding presents for men, there are also various options here: pendants for key chains, Torah scrolls, dreidels, wrist watches, handmade tefillin and kippah, etc.

Hanukkah is a good opportunity to buy gifts for newlyweds as well. In this way, they get to receive presents on the occasion of their marriage, but also bring the spirit of Hanukkah in their homes. Thus, the best gift for the home of newlyweds is a menorah, one which could symbolize the beginning of their life together. Other useful but at the same time traditional gifts might be: candles and candle holders for the many holidays to be celebrated together, a set of plates decorated with Jewish motifs, table cloths and placemats of different colors and shapes, napkin rings in the shape of the Star of David, etc.

Even grandparents have been kept in mind by Hanukkah gift producers. Thus, apart from more traditional pieces of jewelry to celebrate their age and wisdom, they could also receive artistically handcrafted menorahs and adjoining candles to light on Hanukkah, candle holders, decorative objects with Jewish traditional motifs, and books about Judaism and the numerous meanings of its holidays. It is a fact that grandparents are interested in such gifts, both for personal reasons (by advancing in age they tend to be more interested in discovering the origins of their belief and the traditions which laid at its foundation) as well as due to their need to be able to teach their grandchildren about the fundamental elements of Judaism.

Another popular idea which has been also applied on Hanukkah is that of the ”gift basket”. Such presents may contain different varieties of kosher food, as well as seeds and sweets, fruit and even miniature objects. The gift basket is especially useful in the event of visiting a Jewish home with a numerous family. Also, a gift-basket could be offered to newlyweds or to grandparents. It is often the best solution when confronted with lack of time to buy better gifts.

Also, chocolate is an appropriate gift for Hanukkah, as chocolate producers have been lately catering to all tastes and producing chocolate menorahs, chocolate in the shape of the Star of David and of other Jewish symbols.

As one can see, there is a wide range of choices for Hanukkah gifts. And remember, even though the gift shows good intentions, one should never forget the meaning of the event and adjoin it to the gift.