One of the traditions on Chanucah, is the giving of Chanucah gelt or דמי חנוכה (d’mei Chanucah) to children. There are different theories as to how this custom originated. One is that because of the linguistic connection between the Hebrew words “Chanucah”(חנוכה) and “Chinuch” (חינוך) meaning “education”, it became customary during the late Middle Ages in Europe (especially in the Eastern European Jewish communities) to give the children money which they would then give to the local Jewish teacher as a gift at Chanucah, to show their appreciation for the education he was imparting to them. As time went by, it became customary to give money to the children for themselves, to encourage them to study – a bribe, if you will . Nowadays, at least in orthodox Jewish homes, the children are encouraged to donate their Chanucah gelt to charity, to teach them about the importance of giving to those in need.
In the early 20th century, it became customary to give silver and gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins instead, although many families continue to present their children with real money. However, the proximity of Chanucah to Christmas and the increasing commercialisation of the latter, has led to the spread of the custom of giving increasingly lavish gifts. Alas, this commercialisation has affected many of our festivals – and I’ve heard many Christians making the same complaint about Christmas and Easter. Maybe the worldwide recession will force us to cut back our rampant consumerism and, instead, consider the real meaning behind Chanucah (and Christmas too). Every cloud, after all, has a silver lining – at least, that’s what they say.
Meanwhile – here’s some more musical cheer for Chanucah .