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Molly’s Monthly Musings
I have written extensively about Christmas and Hanukkah over the years. Yes, years. Yikes!
This year, I thought I would look into the history of gift giving for these two holidays.
The symbolic giving of gifts for a Christian Christmas is centered around the Three Wisemen or Magi. These men were considered very wise, and Kings would seek their counsel. They appeared at the manger where Jesus was born. They came bearing gifts of Frankincense, gold, and myrrh. However, this is not the only reason. It can change depending on cultures. In Mexico Christmas day is a church going day and January 6th, Three Kings Day is when the Magi leave gifts under the Christmas tree (January 6th is the actual day the Magi left gifts for Jesus). Spain and Italy do the same and January 6th is the actual twelfth day of Christmas (Feast of the Epiphany) when gifts are given.
In Japan where Christmas is not celebrated culturally that Omisoka is the time of gift giving. Omisoka is New Year’s Eve the second most important day in Japanese tradition. Families gather and eat a bowl of udon or soba noodles. These are long noodles which symbolize the crossing over from one year to the next. In China children exchange apples wrapped in colourful paper to symbolize good fortune and peace. Across Asia numbers are important no matter the item. In China the number 8 is auspicious, in Thailand the number 9, and in India uneven numbers are favoured. Me, I like the number 7 and I make my wish list with 14 items for Christmas in which my daughter chooses seven items from. It can be a chocolate bar, a pair of socks, doing the dishes every night till after the New Year, watching a movie. The gift of time is my personal favourite. (OOPS! I digress)😯.
One of my favourite traditions comes from Brazil, known as Amigo Secreto. It is traditional to give small gifts all through December using a pretend name and then on Christmas Day the “secret friend” identities are revealed. Traditions around Christmas and gift giving are varied throughout the world for Christians and non-Christians. My own perspective is a gift, material or other, is symbolic of gratitude. A recognition of thanks. The gift of time – there it is again – is a great gift. Time with family, with friends or even/especially time to care for ourselves, can be the best gift of all.
Hanukkah gift giving is a relatively new Jewish tradition. Jews traditionally exchanged gifts on Purim, but in the 19th century in America this changed to Hanukkah to imitate the Christian holiday of Christmas. However, Hanukkah gelt, the Yiddish word for gold, is an old custom. Students of the Torah would give their teacher gelt around Hanukkah. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for dedication and hinnukh is the Hebrew word for education, which may have been the connection for giving the gift of gelt in Europe. This tradition may have appeared because the teachers of the Torah could not accept money for teaching. In time the students wanted gelt given to them also. This may also be connected to the American custom.
Now giving gifts for Hanukkah may seem like a Jewish Christmas, however, the gifts of Hanukkah are to be attached to a lesson. I lived from the age of 6 to 15 in a very Jewish community where traditional Jews struggled with the gift every night of Hanukkah but did keep the importance of prayers and religion top of mind. In Los Angeles, however, where things can be very commercial, Christmas and Hanukkah were very interconnected. Hanukkah lights around the house were blue and white, the Star of David may light up a lawn, and a white or blue flocked tree with blue and silver bobbles became a Hanukkah bush. I know my friends felt better about how they were able to participate in all this because as kids these things mattered, and many parents wanted their kids to fit in as well. Time off at school was focused on Christmas not Hanukkah, so it was Christian-based although fifty percent of the kids I went to school with were Jewish. Also, many kids would have one parent that was Jewish and one Christian. Oh my! Major digression🧐.
I guess what I am trying to say…as I researched this edition of Musings I was reminded that gifting is what you want it to be. The gift of time, light, food or a small token of gratitude to someone or even ourselves is what it is about.
Really at this time of year when the days are shorter and the nights are longer (is that a song?) let us all try to bring light into our lives, be it for ourselves or others. Light a candle in the darkness or turn on a light. Thank someone. Find gratitude within ourselves. I know I am grateful for the coat I wear, the socks on my feet and the friends I have. This can bring warmth and light to this time of year.
The Wsanec Sis,et Moon in December is The Elder Moon. The oldest in the moon family, the Elder’s hair holds and shields them as they pass on teachings and wisdom to the children as they gather around the warmth of the firelight. Also known as the Cold Moon, the spiritual meaning marks a time for detailed, complex reflection.
Holidays in December:
December 19th first day of Hanukkah
December 21st Winer Solstice
December 24th Christmas Eve
December 25th Christmas Day
December 26th Boxing Day
December 26th Last day of Hanukkah
December 26th First day of Kwanzaa to January 1st
With gratitude for the year behind and the year to come.
Molly aka “Twinkle Boots”