Historically, Hanukkah was not a gift-giving holiday. Thanks to the commercialization of Christmas, the custom of giving gifts on Hanukkah has become more popular in recent decades such that many Jews today consider gift-giving an essential part of the Hanukkah celebration.
The most traditional gift for Hanukkah is gelt, which is Yiddish for “money” — given either in the form of real money or wrapped chocolate coins. These can be used to play the popular Hanukkah game, dreidel. According to legend, the coins we give on Hanukkah reflect similar coins that were minted to celebrate the victory of the Maccabee soldiers over the ancient Greeks in the Hanukkah story. Another explanation for giving gelt comes from the meaning of the Hebrew word “Hanukkah.” The root of the word, hinnukh, means education — the custom of giving your children money for the holiday was meant to teach the importance of charity and giving to others. This was also the time of year children were given money to give as a gift from their families to their teachers.
Today there are many ways that Jews give gifts on Hanukkah. Some families give small gifts for all eight nights of the holiday, while others give just one large gift for each family member and of course some families don’t give gifts at all. There is also a custom to give gifts secretly amongst a group of friends and guess who has received whose gift. Modelled on the “Secret Santa” trend, this is known as “Hanukkah Harry.” There is no one right way to give gifts on Hanukkah. Families adopt their own customs and the gift-giving practice remains fluid across the spectrum.
Thinking about what kind of gifts to give your loved ones? Check out the following gift guides below:
- Hanukkah Gift Guide Roundup
- Hanukkah Gift Ideas for Newcomers to Judaism
- Top Ten Classic Jewish Books for Kids
- Jewish Children’s Literature for Gifts
Explore Hanukkah’s history, global traditions, food and more with My Jewish Learning’s “All About Hanukkah” email series. Sign up to take a journey through Hanukkah and go deeper into the Festival of Lights.