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Giving Gifts

Giving Gifts

It's fun to take part in the shopping season, but is "gifting" a part of Chanukah?


A few years ago the religion editor of a metropolitan newspaper called me to discuss a piece she was working on about the upcoming holiday season. She wanted to know if I could provide her with a different "take" on Chanukah than she was used to hearing.

"And what is it you're used to hearing?" I asked.

"Well, you know," she said, "that Chanukah celebrates the struggle for national self-determination. Or that it's a time of giving, like Christmas and Kwanzaa, only in a Jewish sort of way."

Let's make one thing clear:

There is nothing bad about presents per se. It's just that they don't have any particular significance on Chanukah. In fact, if no one gives or receives even one present on Chanukah, they have not omitted anything central to the holiday.


Everybody I know, including my own kids, wants to strangle me after reading this. To set the record straight: Yes, I got Chanukah presents when I was a child. And yes, my wife and give our children a few gifts on Chanukah. Having said that…

The reason we give presents on Chanukah is because Chanukah just happens to arrive around the same time as Santa. Our Jewish holiday has become culturally overwhelmed by society's obsession with Christmas presents.

There is great historical irony in the fact that Chanukah has been so dramatically impacted by a non-Jewish religion and culture. The Jewish people fought to resist one culture and have celebrated that resistance for over 2,000 years. Now we find ourselves adopting the customs of yet another culture to celebrate the victory of Chanukah.

I wonder what Judah Maccabee would say about that?


Chanukah is about two ever-present forces: darkness and light. It's about a struggle between two world shaping ideologies: Hellenism and Judaism. It's about the imperceptible human spark that enables people to reach far beyond their perceived limitations. It's about the power in a diminutive flame to banish an enormous darkness. It's about a tiny people overcoming the most daunting of foes.

Presents are wonderful – to give and to receive. But Chanukah is primarily not a season of giving but a season of growing. It is the opportunity to discover so much more – to acquire fresh insights into Jewish life and a bold new inspiration for living.

After all, what greater gift could there be?

Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul"


October 29, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 17

(16) Ariela, December 16, 2011 4:18 PM


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

(15) Aldrich Lee, July 29, 2009 2:41 PM


is it true in ancient jewish culture - where rich jewish individuals would select a poor member of their community by clearing his debt. What is that custom called?

(14) LaNita Noah, December 4, 2007 7:24 AM

This is a very interesting subject

I hope to learn more soon.
It's fascinating, and amazing the
things people had to endure long ago.
And, were are all enduring at this time.

(13) gallit, December 10, 2006 1:27 AM

chanukah presents

it is so refreshing reading you article about presents and chanukah. Iwish more familiers were reminded of this. Thanks

(12) Anonymous, December 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Chanukah is a gift...

The Maccabees and Ha Shem so long ago gave us a gift.. the true story I believe of fight, light and the flight by the Seleucid Greeks from our Holy State..we do not need store bought gifts as an enticement to celebrate.. nor do we become one big marketing exercise generating billions... the story is heroic.. the symbols hard earned and profound.. and Channukah itself is a gift from Ha Shem and our sages eternally through the Ages...we singssongs of praise and thankfulness...

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