The custom of parents giving their children coins on Hanukkah—known as Hanukkah gelt—is well-known today, but goes almost unmentioned in pre-20th-century sources. It seems that the practice evolved from an older custom of giving holiday charity, especially to rabbis and cantors. An even newer custom, writes David Golinkin, is giving presents instead of money:
[I]t was the Yiddish press that encouraged Jewish immigrants to buy Hanukkah “presents,” and the English word was quickly absorbed into Yiddish. By 1906, the [socialist Yiddish daily] Forverts advertised Hanukkah “presents” for sale and the religiously conservative Yiddishe Tageblatt urged Jewish parents to give gifts to their youngsters to increase their enthusiasm for the holiday. The Tageblatt‘s most faithful advertiser explained that Christmas and Hanukkah gifts go hand in hand. On the other hand, Forverts editor Abraham Cahan warned Jewish immigrants against buying too many gifts on the installment plan and the Tageblatt warned its readers “we do not want death from pleasure!” . . .
By the 1920s, the Yiddish press advertised Hanukkah “presents” including cars, waffle irons, Colgate products, ginger ale, Aunt Jemima pancake flour for latkes, and even stock shares!