The Dreidel Game: It's Easy to Play!

dreidelGrowing up, holidays at my house were alll about Christmas trees and Nativity sets, so I wasn't sure what to say when my son came home from school and asked me how to play the dreidel game (his buddy brought one from home to show the class). I mean, I know the song (doesn't everybody?) and I know that spinning is somehow involved, but that's really the extent of my dreidel-related knowledge.

Clearly, it was high time we figured out the rules of the (dreidel) game. Need a lesson? Read on to find out more!


Okay, first things first -- what IS a dreidel, exactly? Well, a dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side: Nun, which means "nothing," Gimmel, which means "whole" or "everything," Hay ("half"), and Shin ("put in"). Together, the words stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Sham," meaning "A great miracle happened there [in Israel]."

Dreidels date back to approximately 175 BC, when the Greek King Antiochus IV had Jewish worship. Jews who gathered to study the Torah played dreidel to trick soldiers into thinking they were gambling. Now, people usually play dreidel at Hanukkah for gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins). Here's how it works:

Give all the players an equal number of gelt, usually 10 to 15 pieces. At the beginning of each round, every player puts one piece into the center "pot." Then everybody takes turns spinning the dreidel.

If the dreidel lands with Nun facing up, the player does nothing.

If the dreidel lands with Gimmel facing up, the player gets everything in the pot.

If the dreidel lands with Hay facing up, the player gets half of everything in the pot.

If the dreidel lands with Shin facing up, the player puts one of their own pieces of gelt into the pot.

If a player runs out of gelt, then that person is out!

Now go and get spinning!

Is the dreidel game a tradition at your house?


Image via woodleywonderworks/Flickr

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