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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Should Chanukah Be About Shopping for Presents?

I wonder where the Chanukah gift custom came from.  How old is it?  Is it a long-time custom for Jews who had been living in Moslem countries, like in North Africa or India?  If you can answer that question, please do in the comments, thanks.

Working in Yafiz, Sha'ar Binyamin, I can attest to the fact that that local Arab Muslims buy presents to celebrate all sorts of Moslem holidays. The Rami Levi commercial empire certainly benefits from that custom.  Moslem holidays "travel around" the calendar, because it's a totally lunar calendar without solar adjustments.  The Jewish Calendar combines solar and lunar, so holidays will always fall in the right season.

Chanukah and Christmas coincide, give or take a few days or a week or so.  In an early pre-leap month Jewish year, Chanukah will end a week or so before Christmas, but in most years Christmas will fall in Chanukah.  Please don't forget that Judaism predates Christianity and both predate Islam.  I think that fact is a very important one to remember.  Of those three major religions, Judaism is the most veteran, the oldest.  The other two, Christianity and Islam, base much of their histories and territorial claims on Judaism in a double-punch attempt to replace Judaism, aka identity theft.

All Jewish Holidays revolve around food and eating.  There are lots of jokes giving that as the punch-line.

Would Chanukah presents for the kids, spouse and more be the custom if the holiday didn't coincide with xmas shopping season?

There's an awful irony if the answer to that question is "NO!"

Chanukah is the Jewish Holiday that celebrates the fight against assimilation to foreign, non-Jewish cultures. In the media and commercially dominant western Christian culture of today, this is shopping and gift-giving season. I don't see all that shopping as being connected to the Jewish Holiday of Chanukah. During Chanukah we're supposed to add the Al HaNissim, Because of The Miracles to all of the prayers we say during the eight day holiday.  It explains what we're celebrating and why:

תפילת "ועל הניסים" לחנוכה

על הניסים ועל הפרקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה:

בימי מתתיהו בן יוחנן כהן גדול, חשמונאי ובניו, כשעמדה מלכות יון הרשעה, על עמך ישראל, להשכיחם תורתך ולהעבירם מחקי רצונך, ואתה ברחמך הרבים, עמדת להם בעת צרתם. רבת את ריבם, דנת את דינם, נקמת את ניקמתם, מסרת גיבורים ביד חלשים, ורבים ביד מעטים, וטמאים ביד טהורים, ורשעים ביד צדיקים, וזדים ביד עוסקי תורתך, ולך עשית שם גדול וקדוש בעולמך, ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה ופרקן כהיום הזה. ואחר כך באו בניך לדביר ביתך, ופנו את היכלך, וטהרו את מקדשך, והדליקו נרות בחצרות קדשך. וקבעו שמונת ימי חנוכה אלו, להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול

And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time—

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will. But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Chanukah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

That's what the Chanukah holiday is all about.

PS Just in case you're curious, I will give small gifts to the kids when we get together. But I hope and pray that it's the being together that will be the biggest gift of all, the great celebration, not the trinkets.


Hadassa said...


Read the comments too. The first comment outlines the deterioration of the way in which Hanuka is celebrated.

Hadassa said...

another link

I'll quote the last paragraph here:
It is should be noted that the practice of gift-giving was only added in modern times in communities where Christmas was predominantly observed, with its associated custom of giving Christmas presents. Traditionally, Chanukah "gelt" (now chocolate coins) were distributed. Jews adopted the practice of gift giving as a way of avoiding their children's jealousy of their Christian friends. Today, especially in North America, it has become a fairly widespread practise, extending, in extreme cases, to the giving of an additional gift each of the eight nights. Some families have a tradition to make one night "book night" one night "arts & crafts night", one night "tzedakah night" etc.

Hadassa said...

From the Midrash Ben Ish Chai http://www.midrash.org/halakha/hanukkah.html

The children are trained in the Miswah of giving money in charity. Ashkenazim have the minhagh of giving Hanukkah money [and presents] to the children. Although there is a source for it, this is not the prevalent custom among Sephardim.)

Batya said...

Hadassa, thanks for the info. Why don't you blog for me?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for addressing this issue. It's one of my pet peeves. As a truth seeker, I abandoned my family's xian faith and its attendant holidays at great personal sacrifice and had to fight to keep my children unaffected by it. So, imagine my disgust when I see Judaism being turned into Judeo-xianity.

Batya said...

a, it is frustrating, trying to go against the majority. Just like I dont' believe in rewarding with food, instead of a bought "present" try special experiences. The knowledge and thrill last much longer.

Leah said...

I do combinational things on Chanukah. I do buy the kids one present or give gelt. This year an organization gave us some gifts to give our children. I am incredibly grateful for their kindness. We light the Chanukiah and sing Mao Tzur and we have a funny traditional dance step (if you can call it that) We also make sufganiyot- ok, that isn't true. We make donuts- ;) and we learn about the the relation to oil in the events of Chanukah. We read stories about our holiday. Let's see....we spin the dreidel and most of all we spend time together as a family. I love Chanukah! I feel so proud to be a jew during Chanukah - and of course during the other holidays, too.
So, I guess the answer to your question is a resounding, "No." It shoudl nto be about present shopping. It should be about the humble pride that jews have for our nation- our people and our strength in jewish character and the will and determination and desire to keep it going and to connect to Hashem.
sorry so long worded....

Anonymous said...

Leah said...

"... and sing Mao Tzur ..."


Happy Chinakah!

Batya said...

Leah, how nice...
Shy, shhhh...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Okay,so what! if we give presents,if we decorate with lights and menorah, so what! in the end our light shines brighter, I do not know how many times children who happen by our home during Chanukah say they wish they could celebrate our holiday instead of theirs. We have food, draidle, lights, joy, presents, for eight nights.Our religion and our light outshines all the rest... Emunah tells us that if it were not for our G-d we would have none of this. It is all from HaShem if we can give gifts if we celebrate its all HaShem. Yes our children should be as blessed as any other child and so in the end I say SO WHAT!, it means nothing I am sure children through out history have received gifts for Chanukah I can say this because at one time candy of any sort was a welcomed delightful gift. Especially in the days when even a piece of fruit was welcomed with delight. So again SO WHAT!. Enjoy, be thankful, do not forget the reason why we do what we do and shine your light of JOY! Just one last thing if you in your heart associate any of our Holidays to pagan rituals then you are not celebrating our holidays with the right intent which nulls your effort before HaSHem. HOPE everyone gets that! Celebrate and Celebrate with thankfulness and JOY! Forget the rest of the world and their doing's. Shalom

Leah said...

Oops, Shy Guy. I guess I made a slip of the "Mao Tse Tongue" in my spelling..... Chanukah Sameach!