The Gift-Giving Season(s)
In some parts of the world, the major gift-giving holiday falls in December; in others, February. in Israel, however, there are two main gift-giving holidays — Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Passover in the spring. Looking beyond their religious significance, these holidays include traditions that are important elements of Israel’s business culture.
Looking at the Calendar
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, generally falls in September or October. (Israel follows the Gregorian calendar for all administrative affairs, but the lunar calendar determines the exact day of all religious holidays.)
Passover commemorates the ancient Israelites’ freedom from slavery (under Pharaoh) and exodus from Egypt. The seven-day holiday (eight days outside of Israel), which occurs in March or April, begins with the festive Seder meal, where the story of the Exodus is retold. Unleavened bread (matzah) is eaten throughout the holiday as a reminder of the haste with which the Jews left Egypt (without waiting for the bread to rise).
The three-week period that begins with Rosh Hashanah includes four major religious holidays. The period is known collectively -- and affectionately in Hebrew -- as “the holidays.” (The time around Passover is also referred to as “the holiday.”)
For these and all religious and national holidays, the government, businesses, financial institutions, and schools are closed. Traveling (both domestic and international), eating special foods, and wearing new clothes, especially for the New Year, are just a few common traditions associated with the holidays.
Part of the (Business) Culture
Rosh Hashanah and Passover not only represent important gift-giving opportunities for Israeli society in general, but for the Israeli business community too. Giving holiday gifts (shay l’chag in Hebrew) to employees for Rosh Hashanah and Passover is as much a part of Israeli business culture as wishing people a shana tova (Happy New Year).
A Federation of Israeli Chamber of Commerce survey conducted in March revealed that 78% of small businesses (up to 30 employees) give gifts valued between NIS 200 and NIS 500. ($47-$119). Approximately 90 companies from various sectors (finance, real estate, consulting and business services, electronics, food) participated in the survey. According to the survey, 66% of the businesses distribute gift certificates, 17% give household products, and the remaining 17% give gift baskets to their employees.
In fact, employee gifts are big business. Annually, Israeli companies spend about 3.5 billion shekels (NIS) ($847 million) on gifts to employees. (Note: All dollar amounts in this article are approximate.)
Who Gets What
In the article, “Workers committees spend NIS 1.75 billion on Passover gifts” (Ynet.co.il), the amount available to spend on gifts breaks down as follows:
- ▪ Employees of large monopolies (for example, Israel’s phone or electric company): NIS 1,000-1,400 ($238-$333)
- Bank employees: NIS 900-1,000 ($214-$238)
- Large companies: NIS 800-900 ($190-$214)
- Government agencies and offices: NIS 600-800 ($142-$190)
- High-tech workers: NIS 400-500 ($95-$119)
- Hospital and healthcare system: NIS 300-450 ($71-$101)
- Private sector: NIS 200-300 ($47-$71)
From Housewares to Digital Fare
The Israeli Employee Gift Fair (Labor Union Exhibition) showcases “gift ideas and products” for employee “welfare.” Gift buyers, human resources managers, or representatives from workers’ committee attend the national fair to gather ideas, see the trends, meet the manufacturers, and purchase the gifts. A semi-annual event, the Fair has been held for 29 years. Each Fair occurs a few months before the two main gift-giving holidays.
At one time, gift offerings were fairly standard. Both holidays featured gift baskets filled with traditional foods (honey, candy, wine) or other typical gift items, including housewares, linens and towels, and small electric appliances. But the times -- and the trends -- have changed. For Passover 2007, traditional house/kitchenwares and gift baskets were eclipsed by “gadgets” and electronics of all types from digital cameras to MP4s. There were also more personal care items and specialty food items such as boutique liqueurs and homemade jams.