It is tradition to gift Chanukah gelt (money). While the origin of this tradition is wrapped, somewhat, in mystery, there are a few possibilities. The lights of Chanukah are only meant to spread the story of the holiday, and certain acts, including counting money, are forbidden; giving gelt could be a way to remember this. Another possibility is that it is to reward children for studying Torah and as a symbol of freedom from the Greeks.
There is one other possibility.
Jewish law is clear that one must light Chanukah candles to tell the story of the Maccabees. What if someone doesn’t have enough money to buy the oil needed to light their candles? In this final possibility, Chanukah gelt (often symbolized by chocolate money wrapped in gold foil) symbolizes our duty to help those less fortunate, to help those without and is a reminder of what we do have.
Some families give gelt in the form of presents, giving a few on each day. Some give it by playing the dreidel game and collecting one’s “winnings”. Either way, this can be an important tradition to helps spread another important message of Chanukah. Even in the darkest times, there was enough oil to burn in the Temple for eight days. Remembering this, we must also spread out what we have, but not just among those we love and cherish, but also to those unknown.
During Passover the door is left open to invite the prophet Elijah in. Chanukah seems to want us to do the same thing – leave our door open for those without; invite those who need it most into our homes, around our tables, and give them what we ourselves most enjoy and most cherish. Who will I invite into my kitchen today?