While giving gifts on all the eight nights of Chanukah has become one of the most common and popular norms for American Jews, the tradition is fairly new for local Iranian Jews. Not having to compete with Christmas like most Ashkenazim, Jews living in Iran do not give gifts for Chanukah. Only recently has the community that has resettled in the United States adopted the tradition.
“Chanukah is not a major holiday in Iran [for Jews]. We used to light candles, and maybe every family would have a special meal for only one night,” said Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, UCLA professor of Judeo-Persian history. “Of course, we would light the candles for eight nights, but there was only one night of a feast.”
The tradition of gift giving among Jews living in Iran is and has always been popular during Purim but has not been continued among Iranian Jews living in Southern California, Pirnazar said.
“For Norooz [Persian New Year], the Iranians have the tradition of receiving gifts from the elders,” Pirnazar said. “Since this holiday normally coincides with Purim, the Jews in Iran also follow the same tradition and give gifts to those who are younger on this occasion.”
Iranian Jewish parents living in Southern California have taken on the American Jewish tradition of giving gifts on Chanukah to their children but have only been doing so for the first night, Pirnazar said.
Iranian Jewish scholars said that while Iranian Jews today are using the Festival of Lights as a holiday to encourage community fundraising through events, within a few generations, the giving of gifts on Chanukah may become more commonplace.