While my kids have been in Jewish preschool or Hebrew school for the last five years, the task of buying teacher gifts for Hanukkah inevitably takes me by surprise. Buzz around holiday presents for teachers usually begins mid-December, but Hanukkah has a tendency to sneak up on me while I’m still eating Thanksgiving leftovers.
This year in particular, I am feeling extra appreciation for the Jewish educators in my life. As we process the heaviness of the events in Israel and rising antisemitism, I take comfort in the warm community that welcomes my family into our synagogue each morning. Hanukkah offers an opportunity to express gratitude to the teachers and staff who show up every day to nurture our children, keep them safe, and instill Jewish pride.
As the festival of lights starts early this year, on December 7, it’s already time to get started on your gift list. For extra credit, here are a few ideas for the teachers in your kids’ lives that celebrate the meaning of Hanukkah:
Specialty Olive Oil
While appropriate for any appreciation or host gift, olive oil makes a perfect present for Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates the miracle of oil (and encourages cooking with it). If you have a local olive oil shop, take yourself on a tasting field trip to try the many flavor infusions. Choose one with broad appeal, such as herb, garlic or lemon, or pair with a specialty vinegar for a salad dressing set. If you don’t have a shop near you, Brightland ships their high quality olive oil and vinegar products throughout the U.S.
While teachers may be up to their ears in candles, I have to include them on this list as Hanukkah is, in fact, the festival of light. Lean into the festivities with Homesick’s Latkes and Lights candle, which promises to fill your teacher’s house with the aroma of latkes, applesauce and jelly donuts. For something a bit different, consider a candle warmer to help your teacher enjoy all the candles they already have. Using heat to melt the wax, candle warmers emit fragrance without the fire hazard (and this one even doubles as a coffee warmer).
Just as teachers send home our kids’ schoolwork and art projects, doing some homework for your teacher can make a meaningful gift. Write a card noting something that you appreciate about them or sharing what your child enjoys in class. If your child is old enough, encourage them to write a note themselves. Suggest including a thank you, as well as something specific, such as their favorite part of school. For the younger set, a handmade picture works just as well. To help them along, ask your child to draw a picture of their teacher or classroom.
In the spirit of giving, gift cards are a classic for a reason. These are teachers’ most desired holiday presents,, particularly ones that offer versatility. With the option to use as needed, a gift card can help your teacher with their own holiday expenses, allow them to buy something for themselves, or even be used for classroom school supplies, which many supplement out of their own pockets. Some stores even offer cards in themed Hanukkah designs, such as these from Amazon and Target.
We are used to seeing chocolate coins at Hanukkah dessert tables or around a game of dreidel, but gelt actually has roots in the Jewish value of tzedakah (charity). Customarily, money is given on Hanukkah to facilitate giving part of it away to worthy causes. If you know of a cause or organization that is dear to your teacher’s heart, consider a donation in their name. Here are also a few recommendations from the URJ.
Hanukkah Treats to Share
Looking to bring something shareable to an office or security staff? A box of sufganiyot (jelly donuts) makes a delicious gift that is full of Hanukkah spirit. Fried in oil, these are a traditional holiday food that celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. While you would be hard-pressed to find sufganiyot on a bakery menu outside of Israel, jelly-filled donuts or donut holes have become an American stand-in. Inspired by gelt, chocolate also makes for a delicious and shareable treat. There are many Hanukkah themed options that go a step beyond the usual bag of coins, such as these boxes from Jacques Torres and M&Ms.
A Night Off in the Kitchen
With holiday hosting on the horizon, give your teacher a break from cooking with a restaurant gift card. Treat them to a meal at a favorite lunch or dinner spot. Not sure where your teacher likes to eat? Give a DoorDash or Grubhub gift card to help make one of their eight nights easier with takeout or delivery of their choice.
Hanukkah would not be complete without a round of dreidel, but why is top spinning the only holiday game? Expand the spirit of fun and togetherness by giving a game your teacher can play with their family and friends all year long. Vintage Bookshelf Editions are particularly giftable. With a closed box that looks like an old-fashioned hardcover book, each version of these games can double as coffee table décor. Available in classics such as Scrabble, Boggle and Clue, among others, there is an option for any teacher on your list.