Husband woke up with a start this morning, despite the relaxing sound of the ocean and the sunshine creeping through the blinds. ‘We need gelt, it’s Chanukah’ he declared. I thought he was admitting guilt for the snoring or confessing something much worse…
Finally I understood that being the first day of the Jewish festival of Chanukah, we need to have some chocolate money on stand-by, otherwise known as gelt, as a gift for the children. So then it led me to wonder why do Jews give gelt to their children at this time? What does it mean? And – forgive the pun – but what is the value?
I first learnt that gelt is a Yiddish word for money and that, as with much of Judaism, there are many answers for each question asked. The custom seems to date back to 17th Century Polish Jewry who apparently gave money to their small children for them to pass onto their teachers. (I am going to translate this as a type of Christmas tip.) Clearly the children were clever and soon began to ask for their own allocation of this money.
In fitting with our location, it transpires that 20thcentury American chocolatiers picked up on the coin idea by creating chocolate gelt, now a best-seller at this time of year worldwide.
Many rabbis are quoted online saying that the gelt celebrates the freedom of the Jews and they encourage the concept of channeling material wealth towards a spiritual end. I’m not going to challenge this but I don’t mind admitting that I am slightly relieved that the money is chocolate. Thank god for the Yanks.