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The 8 least essential Hanukkah gifts

Hanukkah will begin on sundown Dec. 10, and even mid-pandemic, many will light the lights, fry the oil, dabble in some low-stakes gambling and, yes, give gifts.

Gift guides are always tricky. They ultimately come down to the tastes of the writer, not the gift buyer or receiver. And while there are a number of items we’ve highlighted with broad appeal for good reasons, this isn’t about those.

No, this is about the seasonal misfires. Whether lovingly crafted or designed via algorithm, these are products that vie for a niche market while upsetting that group’s sensibilities — I mean, at least they rub me the wrong way.

Yet, for all their faults, I must admit they have, like the smell of latke prep, lingered with me far beyond a candle’s half-life. Which brings me to our first offender:

Homesick’s “Latkes and Lights” candle

This candle promises to be redolent of the Hanukkah season, a time that already has no shortage of candles and smells. Its top notes include baked apple, butter and potato with mid-notes of pomegranate and pound cake and base notes of vanilla, sugar and musk. But as anyone who has been inside a latke-cooking home knows the scent is overwhelmingly one of onions and oil. We appreciate Homesick’s efforts, and perhaps their intent was to mitigate some of that stench, but we’re just not sure this 13.75 ouncer’s up for the job. And anyway, the candle’s sold out.

RBG Menorahs (with apologies to Josh Shapiro)

We lost a leading light of the Jewish people this year. Must we also subject her to this?

Judah Maccabot

The product description says this guy plays Hanukkah music, dances and spins like a dreidel and can “make a light show with the beautiful and colorful flashing lights that kids will love.” It doesn’t say, but we can only surmise, that the toy is as persistent as its namesake Judah the hammer, and will no doubt hammer its beeps, bops and digitized rendition of “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” into your last nerve. You’ll pop out the AA batteries to try and get relief. Somehow, it’ll still be whirring, blinking and beeping.

Vineyard Vines Hanukkah Shirt

Martha’s Vineyard has gotten more heymish for Jews over the years. Well, some Jews — remember when Alan Dershowitz complained no one would talk to him there? But the Vineyard Vines brand is a breed of New England-born preppiness that feels out of place in Jewish ritual. Still, each year they produce Hanukkah merchandise and this year’s entry features the simpering whale logo whose skin is branded with a pattern of menorahs and Magen Davids. It comes in one color: “Jake Blue.” It used to be Bluestein.

COVID-themed Hanukkah attire

A particularly cringey pandemic Hanukkah gift

A particularly cringey pandemic Hanukkah gift Image by Zazzle

Some Duane Reades are now stocking dreidel face masks. Of course, there are t-shirts of dreidels wearing face masks. And menorahs wearing face masks. And yeah, a shirt with a smiling roll of toilet paper that reads, in urine-yellow font, “Doesn’t everyone know that bats aren’t kosher?” And while gallows humor is nothing new to our people, the main issue with these items is they just aren’t funny.

The Shalom Gnome

Every so often the Judaica industry accidentally produces an artifact that is reminiscent of uncomfortably anti-Jewish memorabilia. This is one such item. In Poland, many gift shops have “lucky Jew” figurines that hold props like coins and money bags. The Shalom Gnome cradles a challah and has a bucket of potatoes at his feet slapped with a sticker that reads “I ♥ latkes.” Certainly it’s an improvement and comes from a place of love, but it’s not something I’d want in my garden.

Light Up Menorah Hanukkah Sweatshirt

Every image of this item has the wearer holding their arms in an uncomfortable-looking T-position. What happens when you put your arms down? Will people get the full effect? What happens if you need to go through a doorway? It seems like a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

“Jewish” Nativity Scene

This seller, who also hawks Indian, Canadian and Cameroonian and “cocoa” nativity sets is perhaps trying a bit too hard to be inclusive. Short of the messianic Jew crowd or the frighteningly philosemitic evangelical Zionist market, it’s tough to see who would ever want this crèche that shows a Haredi baby — already boasting impressive peyos — emerging from (or swaddled in?) a Star of David by the Kotel, a menorah at his head.

Is this meant to be baby Jesus? Is this Mary wearing a hijab or a wimple? In that case, is she part of an interfaith couple with the shtreimel-wearing Joseph? What are the historical implications of the Temple already being destroyed at the time of the nittel? There’s so much to unpack here, but please, don’t make someone unwrap it for Hanukkah.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].


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