What's appropriate — and inappropriate — to give a Jewish friend or colleague for Hanukkah?
If you're seriously dating a Jewish guy and want to give his mother something for the holidays — and you don't want to blow it — what are the unspoken guidelines? If your family celebrates Christmas, and your child's best friend is Jewish, what and when is it nice to give a Hanukkah gift? Or suppose you work with someone who's Jewish, and you want to get them a Christmas present: should you?
Best Kept Secret About Hanukkah: It Isn't the Jewish Christmas
First of all, an important factoid: Hanukkah isn’t really the "Jewish Christmas," in Brooklyn or anywhere else, for that matter.
It’s a relatively minor Jewish holiday, one that's much less important in Jewish religious terms than Christmas is to Christians.
That said, especially in the United States, Hanukkah has taken on a gift-giving dimension. Why? Because it just happens to occur around the month of December, during the Christmas shopping season.
8 DO's & DON’TS of HANUKKAH GIFT GIVING
In the interests of holiday cheer, here are eight practical "Do's and Don'ts" for Hanukkah gift giving — eight tips in honor of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
- DON’T Give Ham for Hanukkah. Not everyone who’s Jewish cares about eating kosher food. Most Jewish New Yorkers don't. Even so, as a gift giver, the last thing you want to do is stir up legendary Jewish guilt. Generally, avoid food baskets overflowing with such goodies as Canadian bacon, fancy dried shrimp, Serrano ham, Italian blood sausage, a box of pretty cookies decorated like Santa, or Christmas fruitcake.
On the other hand, if your Jewish friend is a foodie or has a particular yen for non-kosher food, try a gift certificate to the popular, hipster-run eatery in Brooklyn ironically called Traif and, equally ironically, located very near the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. Or you can take them to the annual Latke Festival, so they can taste a variety of different artisanal latkes.
- DO Gives: DO give books, clothes, toys, electronics, equipment, booze, jewelry, trips to Paris or the moon, cash, gifts of time such as free babysitting or donations to charity. As for gifts of food, see above.
- DON’T Be Color Blind: Pass on Those PJs with the Red-and-Green Reindeer Motif. Christmas colors are red and green. Hanukkah colors are blue and white.
- DO Give It During the Holiday. If it’s a Hanukkah gift, then try to give it in a timely fashion, meaning during Hanukkah. That shouldn't be hard — this holiday runs for eight days! When is the last night of Hanukkah this year?
- DON’T Give a Christmas Creche for Hanukkah. In the same vein as #3 above, don't give a Hanukkah gift emblazoned with Santas, candy canes, winter snowflakes, or Christmas trees. Unless the recipient of your gift loves kitsch, avoid giving that hand-crafted Christmas creche, even if you schlepped it all the way to Brooklyn from the flea market in Venice.
- DO Rely on Traditional Hanukkah Gifts, If You're Uncertain. It’s always a safe bet to give something traditional.
For children, the equivalent of Christmas stocking-stuffers are a dreidel (a special toy top with Hebrew letters on each side), or little bags of chocolate wrapped in gold paper to look like coins.
For adults, consider beautiful menorah candles, fine cooking oil, or a Jewish cook book. That said, your friend or colleague might prefer a foodie experience, such as a cooking class at the Brooklyn Kitchen to a Passover cookbook collecting dust in a crowded Carroll Gardens apartment.
- DON’T Wrap a Hanukkah Gift in Christmas wrapping. Avoid wrapping a Hanukkah gift in Christmas wrapping paper; books may be an endangered species but they are still judged by their covers.
If you buy wrapping paper, select a generic pattern or splurge on special Hanukkah wrapping (even though it may be overpriced and when you unroll it there'll be less of it than you expect.) Or, go green, and artfully recycle an old section of The New York Times or brown wrapping paper from your last batch of shirts from the Chinese laundry.
Ditto the gift card: buy, use or make a Hanukkah card, or use a global-peace themed card from a charity such as UNICEF, but for the sake of consistency, don't put a Christmas card on your Hanukkah gift. Or, make a combo of Christmas-Hanukkah gift wrap for mixed-faith families (see photo).
- DON'T Enroll Your Friend on J-Date.com for Hanukkah. Finally, if your Jewish friend is single, don't enroll him or her on JDate, despite its siren song marketing as "the modern way for Jewish people to find love." Why? Because that gift is reserved for Jewish mothers.
Edited by Alison Lowenstein