While looking into why we started giving gifts for Hanukkah, I found this inane site, which explains how to give gifts for Hanukkah. It made me laugh out loud, so though it’s useless, I had to share.
Then I found this site, which describes Hanukkah gift-giving as “an ignorant, spineless, and evil practice”. Wow! I’m not a big fan of Hanukkah Harry, but WOW!
And then this site finally explained what most of us would have guessed… that as a tradition, Hanukkah gift-giving grew out of giving children gelt, except that in this version, gelt is earned by the children, as a reward for answering questions about Hanukkah. Which is an idea that really appeals to me.
Of course, the proliferation of gifts at Hanukkah has a lot to do with Christmas. Certainly it’s a loooooong way from a gold choco-coin to a Playstation 3. But I’m having a hard time finding out just when this switch took place. This story in the Washington Post tracks the changes in a generational way, but still doesn’t offer any hard data on when we started to see blue and white Hanukkah giftwrap.
In any case, I wanted to suggest that whatever gifts you’re giving, you might reach back to the initial gelt-as-reward tradition. Start a new trend, by quizzing your kids about something related to the holiday, or Judaism, or maybe your own family history. Make them work for it, and maybe it’ll mean a little bit more!
(Side note… this little tale on the subject is really funny, and well worth a read!)