How The Grinch Stole Chanukah – and How to Get It Back


giftBy CJ Srullowitz

We have this argument, er, discussion every year.

“Why can’t we get Chanukah presents?” my children want to know.

“Because,” I explain, “there’s no such thing as Chanukah presents.”

“But all our friends are getting Chanukah presents,” they protest.

“Maybe you need other friends,” I suggest. This suggestion, as usual, does not yield anything productive. The conversation devolves to the point at which I silence everyone by threatening to move the family to Lakewood.

“But so many people give Chanukah presents. Is there really no source for that?” my wife asks innocently.

“Sure there is,” I inform her. “It’s called Xmas.”

My son, burgeoning talmid chacham that he is, tries a different tack with me. There is a mitzvah, he insists, to buy your children presents for all holidays. True, I admit, there is such a mitzvah, but it only pertains to the shalosh regalim of PesachShavuos, and Sukkos, where there is the command, “Vesamachta  bechagecha-And you shall be happy on your Festivals.” Those gifts usually come in the form of new shoes or a tie. Besides, I remind him, when was the last time he protested not getting a gift for one of the regalim? Furthermore, I chided, what about Purim? I have yet to be asked for a Purim present.

Giving gelt, on Chanukah, yes. That seems to be a long-standing practice, though how it initially came into being is subject to much conjecture. But gifts? Nuh-uh.

Before Chanukah, I listened to a fascinating shiur by Rav Moshe Meiselman, shlit”arosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem. He referenced the gemara in which Chazal asked Hashem to eliminate the yeitzer hara for avodah zarah, and Hashem acquiesced. The Medrash in Parshas Noach says that, with idolatry eliminated, the people of the world needed something through which their spiritual needs could be met. Ideally, the Torah should have filled that role. But because the Jews weren’t fully faithful to the dictates of Torah, they allowed Greek culture to be introduced throughout the world (via Alexander the Great’s conquests) and missed the opportunity to spread the “light” of Torah to the nations. Instead, “Christianity-a corruption of Torah-filled the void.”

Every year, the Chanukah lights are rekindled to remind us that we must see the world through the lens of Torah and not through the lens of foreign cultures. And yet, here we are, two thousand and some odd years later, and we wish to introduce into Chanukah a Christian minhag of gift-giving. The irony is too much to bear!

But perhaps we can turn the tables.

In researching the custom of Chanukah gelt on, I came across a seferLeket Hachanukah (Jerusalem 2010) by R. Menashe Ben Zion Cohen, in which he tells the following story about Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch: “One time, after lighting the Chanukah lights, he turned to the chasidim who were around him and said, ‘Now is an eis ratzon and everyone can ask for whatever he wants for his avodas Hashem.’ The chasidim asked, each one his request.”

Here’s how I picture the scene: an elderly, saintly-looking man with a snowy, white beard, sitting by the Chanukah lights, as his chasidim line up and approach him, one by one, with an individual request for Chankah.

Hmm… Why does that sound familiar?

A little historical digging turns up the fact that Rav Mordechai died in 1810. More digging turns up the fact that although Santa Claus-or an ancestral precursor of him-may have existed prior to the eighteenth century, the popular shopping mall version of Santa, who takes gift requests, “has been credited to James Edgar, as he started doing this in 1890 in his Brockton, Massachusetts department store” (

I don’t know if James Edgar knew of the Chassidim of Lechovitch. I don’t know if there were any Chassidim at all in Brockton, Mass. (20 miles south of Boston) in 1890. I don’t even know if there were Jews there at that time. However, it’s not impossible to imagine that somehow he took the idea from Rav Mordechai’s followers.

So for now the rule in my house remains, No Presents. However, if my kids want to go to the mall and ask the old man with the white beard for a present to help them achieve their avodas Hashem, perhaps there’s room to be meikil.

{ Newscenter}


  1. But think of all the yiddeshe store owners who make parnassa from this . That’s why I recommend yiden smoke,overeat and not exercise. My brother-in-law is a cardiologist and he needs parnassa too.

  2. As an adult, I can respect your attitude, but young children will only understand that their Father is the grinch compared to other Father’s who will be bringing simcha to their kids on Chanukah. With so many kids going off the derech let us bring the simcha and beauty of Yiddishkeit to our children in these dark times. It reminds me of the story of a Rav who broke the nose of his daugher’s doll so that it shouldn’t look like a pesel. How cruel to that child I thought. I’m sure she grew up fine, but for people reading that story it seemed to examplify the attitude(by some people)that anything fun or physically beautiful in this world should be repressed or outlawed.

  3. As in Pirkei Avos – Who is wise? Who sees the future. If there is a chance that your children will see you and Yiddishkeit by extension as a dark and stern taskmaster with no simcha or beauty then I don’t envy your future.

  4. Actually, we are far more Americanized than most of us know, and it starts with things like Chanukah presents, which are pretty obvious (in some circles in Brooklyn it is now accepted to give “Purim presents” – not food but gift objects.), but it goes much, much deeper than that. We are picking up the hashkafah aspects as well as the “trivial” cultural ones. I recently found that one of my friends had a children’s book from an extremely respectable Jewish publishing house which made me truly frightened. The book is about a group of sheep who have decided to do without their “shepherd” – a very open metaphor for some Jews and HaShem. In the end after various misfortunes the sheep rejoice that their shepherd has returned – and a picture is shown of the Shepherd – HaShem Yisborach – as a human being dressed in white robes (although without recognizable facial features). The figure shows a strong resemblance to Gandalf the Grey from the Tolkien series – and to someone else we won’t mention here.

    This was from a very, very respectable publishing house. I usually buy their books without question, but this really shocked me. Either someone hasn’t read the 13 ikkarim in their Siddur, or they just passed the book on without looking at it closely.

    Pay attention – it’s the little things that count, and that in the end add up to real hashkafah problems.

  5. And please don’t tell me about “parnassah.” A few dollars more or less in exchange for our children’s neshamos?

    Besides, after giving ma’aser, which is an important educational experience in itself, children will mostly go on to buy toys and books anyway. Stores will get 9/10 of the money anyway. Of course, there are children who may opt out of the secularized consumer culture and put the money in a savings account.

  6. Rabbosai,

    If what this writer has said upset you, why not clarify for yourself by delving into the sugyah or asking your Rav? What is the gain in attacking this writer? What will it accomplish?
    Whether he is correct or incorrect in his assertion, I have no idea; but I do think that it is not worthwhile to write caustic comments about him.

    just a thought.

  7. I agree with this article 100% and I give my children Chanukah gelt. THis does not diminish the joy of Chanukah or Yiddishkeit. It’s just done differently without immitating the outside world. There were years that I did give gifts, but I finally stopped. My children are grown and have families of their own now so we give a check to each family (just as my European parents did). Usually their parents buy something for the kids with the money and tell them it’s from Bubby and Zeidy. Can’t see how that traumatises anyone!
    BTW, I live in Lakewood and many here give gifts too, so moving here won’t help you!
    A Frelichen Chanukah!

  8. I, as a Father happen to agree with the writer. I do buy Chanuka presents for my children and grandchildren because of peer pressure. But their is no question about it that it comes from xmas. I am B”H 60 years old and counting. When I was a child we had family gatherings and we received Chanuka Gelt from parents, aunts, uncles, married cousins etc. and sometimes plastic dreidels with NOSH inside and we were very happy about it. (I saved up the money and when I wed I had over 1,600.00 dollars in my pocket which came in very handy. A Freilichen Chanuka!

  9. Well said. Chanuka can be made “freilich” without copying the “goyim”. How shallow we have become.
    For Chanuka you should buy, as the ads read, jewelry, sheitels, recliners, electronics, lingerei, of course toys, etc etc.
    What does this have to do with Chanuka? The miracle of the oil, and the decrees of the Greeks.
    Yes, Yidden need parnossa, and therefore we should only purchase from Yidden all year round. Thats a Mitzva d”Orraisa.
    But Chauka gifts??? yes – sadly that is Xmas.
    If your house is only happy if you give out gifts – you are missing out on the Ruach haTorah and Yahadus – nebech on you.

  10. To all of you who are criticizing this article in the name of chinuch, here are some more ideas we can begin to incorporate into our “Jewish” lives-

    1- On Chanukah let’s make big blow up dolls of Yehudah Macabee and put them on our front lawn. We will tell our kids that Yehudah Macabee is the one who brings them their presents and leaves them under the menorah – if of course they were good that year. After all Chanukah is not beautiful or fun unless we get presents.

    2-On Purim have our kids go around to all the homes in the neighborhood and instead of giving Mishloach Manos, they should demand treats and if they are refused they should do a trick. We can call it “Nosh or Nudge”. Why celebrate by giving when we could celebrate by taking?

    3- On Rosh Hashana we should count down the last minute before Shkiya and when we reach zero the entire shul should yell out “L’shana Tova”. Why should our kids view the Yom Hadin as dark and unfun – lets liven things up a bit.

    4- On Pesach the father should dress up like a bunny at the seder and we should hide the afikoman all over our yards have an afikoman hunt. After all, how do we expect our kids to learn Emunah in Hashem if we don’t act silly and give them more stuff!

  11. One does not have to get too elaborate but one should give a child something – we frum mentchen take the role of Hanukah Harry – what do we give for chanukah – clothing, all forms –
    But for a child the joy of chanukah is a present – and I agree with the commnets about the Frum store keepers. And what’s next no toy or treat for the youngster for the Afikomen

  12. Giving “presents” is going Bichukas Hagoyim. This was picked up from Kratzmach.
    Giving Chanuka gelt IS a Minhag which can be given. There is a big difference between the two.

  13. 1. Don’t worry, cash and checks are welcomed as gift on any occasion by adults and children alike (and that includes nonjewish friends, colleagues and relatives)

    2. From the depths of the diaspora, picture an ignorant child’s question to the rabbi. Of course the Rabbi could and should have been incensed, yet, what good would it have done? He replied – we learn from everything – go to the mall and look around, see how the birthday of the lowest lowlife ever born to yidden is celebrated by the goyim. Think a moment! How many more gazillion times will they celebrate your own birthday when Moshiach comes and they finally find out the truth!
    A child is a child is a child. If the child’s parents live in Lakewood, the child will likely not know about “santa” and will not ask for gifts. If the family raises the child some place where xmas is all over the place, it is them who are responsible for their children to feel good they’ve been born jewish.

  14. First of all, our daughters in israel semenaries all get Channukah gifts. They are all off for Channukah. On top of tuition we pay for their Chanukah getaway vacation from their yearlong vacation.

  15. I heard from a great rabbi that the umos haolam have no minhag to give Chanukah presents, and so it is ok to give them to our children.

  16. Actually, Rabbi Shmuel Felder (of Lakewood) brings from Rav Yakkov Kaminetski Zatzal who states clearly that there is no problem with giving chanuka presents. He discusses where the practice came from. Luckily there are still 7 nights of Chanuka and you could chap arine bringing happiness to your children in a completely Muttar way.

  17. So i hear what you are saying and i dont agree with all the comments. But there are sefardim who give “Purim Presents” Where we are giving “mishloach manos….” but i hope all children who are no recieving presents dont resent it but understand the beauty…. though if the concept of chanuka is giving then gifts and money or gelt are not so different.

  18. I cant understand all the negativity at this article.

    I give my children Chanukah money -with which they can buy anything (kosher) of their choice – and they are more thrilled.

    If someone disagrees with this article, they may choose not to follow it. But why this horrible negativity?