This is in response to last week’s letter by Rivky Schwartz who quoted the Reader’s Digest as a source that Chanukah gifts have no Jewish source or tradition and are just copies of non-Jewish customs.
Allow me to quote actual halachic sources on the subject.
The poskim discuss this and conclude that it isn’t a problem of chukas hagoyim, as in all likelihood their custom of giving gifts on their holidays was actually taken from us and not vice versa. (See Emes L’Yaakov by Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, siman 670, footnote.)
The Ponevez Rav, Harav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt”l, said that after the Greeks forbade the Jewish children from learning Torah, their parents had to “bribe” them with gifts to get them to learn once again. Giving gifts on Chanukah commemorates that aspect of the Chanukah miracle.
Indeed, children should be told when receiving gifts that it is for this reason and that they are expected to increase their Torah learning because of the gifts. (See Sifsei Chaim by Harav Chaim Friedlander, zt”l, Moadim, Vol. 2, page 134.)
Harav Ezriel Auerbach wrote a teshuvah why gifts should be encouraged as well. See also Shu”t Avnei Yashfeh, Vol. 1, siman 129:2 and Shaarei Halachah U’minhag, Vol. 2, page 283.
While there may be poskim who disagree with all these sources, those who do give gifts definitely have halachic backing.
Boruch Leff, Baltimore