The History Behind Hanukkah Gelt

Chocolate gelt coins featuring a menorah design
Chocolate gelt coins featuring a menorah design | Source

What is Hanukkah Gelt?

Hanukkah gelt, like Hanukkah itself, has a long, rich history and is strongly tied to Judaism. The word "gelt" is a Yiddish word meaning money (the Hebrew word for this is dmei.) During Hanukkah, Jewish families give their children gelt or gelt-shaped chocolates.

The tradition of gifting these chocolates spread outside of Judaism to families who celebrate other wintertime holidays, namely Christmas. For example, chocolate gelt (or other coin-shaped chocolate) is available for purchase in various supermarkets throughout the US and is commonly used as a Christmas stocking stuffer. This is often done in celebration of a multi-cultural holiday season.

Did You Know?

In 1958, the Bank of Israel issued commemorative Hanukkah gelt coins.

These coins had the image of the same Menorah found on Maccabean coins that were used 2000 years ago!

These chocolates often come packaged in a small, cloth "money bag" or sometimes just plastic netting shaped like a bag. Each chocolate is stamped with a coin design wrapped in gold colored foil so that it looks like a real coin.

Before the 1920s, when an American confectioner produced the first chocolate gelt, Jewish families actually gave real gelt (money) to their children for Hanukkah. However, since its creation, chocolate gelt has become extremely popular.

Why a Monetary Gift?

The tradition of giving money to children dates all the way back to the 17th century in Europe, particularly in Poland. Here, families would give money to their children who would then bring the money to their teachers as a donation. Later, as well as donating money to schools and teaches, families would also give their children money to keep.

By the 18th century, it became customary for poor children to visit the homes of well-off families who would give them gelt. This custom met the approval of rabbis as this would spread the story of the miracle of Hanukkah.

Betting Gelt & Spinning the Dreidel

Dreidel, a game traditionally played by Jewish children, is a betting game involving a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew characters on each side. Gelt (and chocolate gelt) received during Hanukkah is often used as currency (to place bets) in the game.

While chocolate gelt has become very popular, today Jewish parents often give actual money as a gift to their children for Hanukkah. Chocolate gelt is often included as a small gift for Hanukkah, but is generally no longer considered a "main gift", but rather more as a small symbolic token. Today, both the dreidel and gelt are recognized as symbols of Hanukkah.

Quick Poll

Which would you rather receive?

  • Chocolate! I'd like some freshly minted gelt coins!
  • Show me the money! Real gelt!
See results without voting

Where to Buy Gelt

Chocolate Hanukkah gelt can be purchased in most supermarkets and candy shops during the holiday season. Israeli coins can be given as a real Hanukkah gelt. As they can't be spent outside of Israel, Israel coins are more of a novelty gift, but still a really unique and fun idea.

Israeli coins can be found in some coin shops and even on Internet auction sites like eBay. If you're fortunate enough to live in or near a Jewish neighborhood, head out to some of the local shops. If there's a Jewish gift shop around, they're sure to have Israeli coins available or something else fun and unique that can be purchased instead.

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Comments 9 comments

spotlight19 profile image

spotlight19 21 months ago from California

I really liked your article its always fun to learn about the history and culture of other ethnicities.

I know Hebrew 3 years ago

The word "gelt" is a Yiddish word meaning money (the Hebrew word for this is dmei.)

I am sorry to intrude, but I just have to put in some word of correction. Yiddish word "gelt" means "gold" and it is just correlated with money the same way as sometimes we would use a word "silver" meaning "money"

Hebrew "dmei" is not a word per se, and it does not mean "money", but rather it means a payment co-related with something.... If we say "dmei Hanukkah", it means Hanukkah allowance. The same word (dmei) used with a word "avtala" (unemployment) menas unemployment payments... etc...

theking2020 4 years ago

Everyones culture is incredible, love reading things that can add value to anyones life.

Sinea Pies profile image

Sinea Pies 4 years ago from Northeastern United States

I have one Israeli coin that was inadvertently given to me as change! I love it. Something about it seems more special. Gift shops at synagogues can be a source for gelt as well. We have a lovely temple in our town that has a gift shop.

cardelean profile image

cardelean 4 years ago from Michigan

Thanks for the history lesson, I appreciate it. Sharing this on FB!

Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 4 years ago

Dear Mel ~ This page was awesome and I will have to send out to many friends so they can learn more about gelt. Happy Hanukah! Love, Debby

john000 4 years ago

Your article reminded me of my youth. When at friends' houses I would see the gelt. The first time I was astounded to see gold coins. I was really astounded when my friend peeled the metalic wrap off and handed me a chocolate. What a great tradition. Thanks.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 4 years ago from London, UK

I love reading about other people's culture and traditions. That was fascinating. Thank you.

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

My dad's parents are Jewish so my brother and I used to get gelt on occasion during December. I would love to buy it again sometime. Thanks for the information and tips!

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