What to Give Jewish Friends for Hanukkah
The holiday season is upon us, with Christmas fever getting into full swing. Christmas, however, is not the only gift giving religious winter holiday. Hanukkah predates Christmas by many a century and lasts a lot longer. This eight-day Jewish celebration, also known as the “Festival of Lights”, commemorates a Jewish revolt and successful rededication of the Temple in the second century BC. As Hanukkah coincides with Christmas, many of the lines and traditions have been blurred between the two. This leaves many people with the following question: what is an appropriate gift for Hanukkah?
It’s not Jewish Christmas
The biggest misconception about Hanukkah is that it is just like Jewish Christmas, when in fact the two have very little in common. When you sit down at your computer to find a good gift deal on the web, there are some specific unspoken rules for buying Hanukkah gifts you should be aware of. It is not your typical Christmas shopping. First of all, Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, far less religiously important than Christmas is to Christians. Secondly, gift giving was never an integral part of the holiday, as the only religious observance attributed to this holiday was lighting candles. It is only in the last century or so that kids started getting small presents on each day of Hanukkah.
If you are uncertain of what would be appropriate for a Hanukkah gift, you can always rely on the age-old traditional gifts. The Jewish equivalent to stocking-stuffers for kids are dreidels and little bags of chocolate coins wrapped in golden foil. The cradle is a four-sided spin top has with one letter of the Hebrew alphabet on each side that spell “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” which translates to “a great miracle happened here”. The chocolate coins are also known as Hanukkah geld. The coin is significant as a national minted coin was a great celebration of freedom for the ancient Hasmoneans, the ruling dynasty of Judea during classical antiquity. When shopping for adults, stylish menorah candles, a Jewish cookbook or a fine kosher wine or cooking oil are all sure bets for a traditional gift.
No Christmas wrapping
Whatever you decide on buying, do not be color blind. Christmas themed wrapping paper may be auspiciously abundant in all of the stores, but avoid it at all costs. Note that Christmas colors are red and green, while Hanukkah colors are blue and white, so color coordinate accordingly. If you do wrap your present, go for a plain generic pattern or splurge on some special Hanukkah wrapping paper. The same applies to gift cards, stay well away from anything Christmas themed. You can buy or even make a custom Hanukkah card with a gift card inside.
Hanukkah lasts for eight days, so there really is no excuse to give your gift late. Show respect for tradition by giving your Hanukkah gifts on time. Also be aware of dietary restrictions and steer clear of gift baskets that contain Canadian bacon, fancy dried shrimp, Italian blood sausage or Christmas fruitcake. Splurging on gifts may be ok for some holidays, but it really misses the point of Hanukkah. Stick with small gifts that have some special meaning. A large part of Hanukkah is Tikkun Olam, translated as “repair the world”, through altruistic actions and honest communication. You can be a part of this by speaking to your friends about their beliefs and learning about the significance of Hanukkah traditions.
Although there is far less hype around Hanukkah than Christmas, giving a small Hanukkah gift is a nice gesture. That being said, the best gift you can give is love and friendship. Gifts are great, but spending time with family and feasting on oil fried food with loved ones is a much more important part of Hanukkah. It truly is an occasion where the expression “it’s the thought that counts” rings particularly true.