Hanukkah Gifts

Hanukkah Gifts: Pay it with Chocolate!

It’s that time of the year again, when all your Jewish family and friends gather round to light the Chanukah menorah, eat scrumptious delicacies and visit the synagogue.

But like any other holiday, what’s a celebration without gifts. Even on an occasion as important as the “Festival of Lights.” You could say the same about chocolate as well. What’s a holiday without this festive treat to get everyone in the right spirit?

Luckily, Jews everywhere can get the best of both worlds. With a tradition that may be as old as Hanukkah itself, there are chocolate gelt gifts.

Gelts – Yiddish for “money” – are given to kids as gifts on Hanukkah and are more commonly referred to as chocolate coins. They look every bit like the real thing. This includes everything – writing, stamps, the works – and it comes with a gooey chocolate center. Wrapped in gold or silver foil, gelt could be of any type of chocolate—dark, milk, white and even mint—with nuts or fruits to spice things up.

While it’s a sweet treat that could put a smile on any kid’s face – and adults too, chocolate gelts are also used as currency in the game dreidel—whichever side the spinning top falls, the Hebrew letter on that side decides if the participant gets to keep the chocolate or not. Simple.

Now to the chocolate historians, the use of chocolate as money might bring up a big “a-ha” moment considering chocolate itself was used as currency (equivalent to gold!) by the Aztecs back in the day. But how exactly did chocolate gelt come into being and how is it related to Hanukkah? There are several theories floating around:

  • A Sign of Victory:

Popular legend links the tale of the gelt to the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks. National coins were minted as a symbol of this freedom depicting a menorah. When the State of Israel started minting coins to be used as Hanukkah gelt in 1958, the first coin had the exact same menorah design used on the Maccabee coins around 2000 years ago!

  • The Pupil Becomes the Master:

Another historical tradition dates gelts back to 17th or 18th century Europe. Here, Jewish children were given money during Hanukkah and then encouraged to give it to their religious teachers to thank them for all their hard work. But somewhere along the line, the practice shifted from the teachers to the students. So much so that now it is common for Rabbis to give children gelt as a token of their blessings. Nicely done kids!

  • The Savvy Chocolatier:

Now here’s a question for you—what came first, the chocolate gelt or the chocolate coin? The answer may remain a mystery forever. During the 20th century when Hanukkah started gaining popularity in the US, companies like Loft introduced the first chocolate gelt. They may have been inspired by the Belgium and Netherlands tradition of giving children chocolate coins during Christmas. But it was the chocolate gelt that became all the rage. Now chocolate coins are considered common gifts during Halloween, Christmas and even Chinese New Year. But there is a possibility it was the chocolate gelt that came first.

If you want to be creative, you could always whip up delicious Hanukkah treats by mixing chocolate with babkas, sufganiyots, zeppoli, rugelach or even latkes. Chocolate is always the way to go when it comes to the “Festival of lights” or any occasion for that matter. No question about that!