The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is all about celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and remembering the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. It involves lighting menorahs, spinning dreidels, eating potato pancakes, and exchanging small gifts. While Hanukkah has become more about giving, understanding the reasons and symbols behind the gifts can make the exchange that much more meaningful.
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Lighting the Menorah
A traditional Hanukkah gift is a menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum that is lit every night of the festival. Families light the menorah and say prayers over the candles. The newest candle is added to the menorah each night until all eight candles are lit. The ninth candle, the Shamash, is used to light the other candles.
Spinning the Dreidel
The dreidel is a four-sided top with a letter of Hebrew on each side. The letters stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, or “a great miracle happened there”, which refers to the oil lasting for eight days. A game is also associated with the dreidel. Players take turns spinning the dreidel and when it stops, participants gain or lose whatever is in the pot based on the letter that is on the top when the dreidel falls.
Giving Gifts of Money
- In European countries, regardless of denomination, Jews have long been the tradition of giving children gifts of money for Hanukkah. The origin of this practice is believed to come from the Yiddish words for Hanukkah, “Yontif Fun Oren” (“Yontif” meaning “holiday” and “Oren” meaning “light” or “money”).
- In Hebrew, Hanukkah is called “_Z’man Heirutenu_” which means “time for our freedom.” Many families incorporate this translation into their giving traditions, offering gifts of small amounts of money that symbolizing freedom, such as a $1.80 or $18.
Giving Gifts of Toys
- In modern times, Hanukkah gifts often are chosen to honor the oil miracle, as well as the many other stories and symbols associated with the holiday. Therefore, toys are a common gift of choice to give to children.
- Families can choose toys to represent the items in the Jewish temple at the time — such as those things that might have been used to light the menorah, like oil lamps or candlesticks — or the items used by the Jewish soldiers in the Maccabean revolt such as swords and shields.
Every Hanukkah season offers a chance to celebrate the holiday’s themes of family, faith, and freedom, as well as the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. Families follow the traditions of lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel and giving small gifts of money or toys. By understanding the origins and symbolism behind the giving of these gifts, Hanukkah can be an even more meaningful holiday for everyone.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.