December14Jewelry Now
GIFTING GOLD: AN ANCIENT HANUKKAH TRADITION

by Naomi Gryn 

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Illustration by Ellie Rahim

The festival of Hanukkah will begin this year on the evening of Thursday, 10 December, bringing light and joy to Jewish homes all over the world. It celebrates the miraculous victory in 165 BCE of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors, against the mighty Hellenist rulers who had forbidden Jewish religious practice in ancient Israel.

The story handed down from one generation to the next is about how, when the Jewish zealots regained the Temple in Jerusalem, they found enough pure oil to light the seven-branched menorah for only one day, and yet the oil lasted for eight days until more could be brought. For this reason, Jews light candles for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. But the real miracle of this festival is about indomitability, and the survival of Jewish culture through the ages.

Some think that the tradition of giving children coins on Hanukkah – gelt in Yiddish – started in medieval times, when Jewish children were given money by their parents to give to their teachers as a token of appreciation. Others think it goes back to 142 BCE, when the first Jewish minted coins were stamped with an image of a menorah. Chocolate coins covered in gold foil have also become part of the Hanukkah festivities, often used instead of real coins in a gambling game in which players spin a four-sided dreidl on which are written four Hebrew letters, nun, gimmel, heh, and shin, from a phrase that translates as: ‘a great miracle happened there’. In modern Israel, the shin has been swapped with a peh because the miracle happened ‘here’, not ‘there’.

These days, many Jews copy the Christmas tradition of giving everyone in their family something that they’ll treasure. After all, what could better for cheering up a dark, winter night than giving a well-chosen present to someone you love?

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