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The Hanukkah Dreidel - History, Song, & Game

Updated on August 18, 2015
from right to left: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin
from right to left: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin

History of the Dreidel

The dreidel is a four sided top that is played during Hanukkah. The dreidel has a Hebrew letter on each side, which spell out, "A miracle happened here," which refers to the miracle of what happened to the land of Israel when the Jewish army stopped the religious oppression from the Greeks.

The four letters are: Nun, Gimel, Hey, Shin, which spell out the acronym Nes Gadol Haya Sham.

Many people claim that the dreidel game was devised to help camouflage when the Jewish people were studying the Torah, which was outlawed by the Greeks. The Jews would gather in secret places, such as caves, so that they could study. A lookout would alert the group if a Greek soldier was coming, and if a Greek soldier was spotted, the group would hide their scrolls and spin tops, so that the soldiers thought that they were just gambling.

Today, the dreidel game is just a fun game to play during Hanukkah. Sometimes, real money will be played with instead of candy or tokens, and the money will be donated to the synagogue

Dreidel Game

The Dreidel Game

The rules of the dreidel game are pretty simple. First off, there can be any number of players in the game.

Now, each player begins the game with the same number of playing pieces, which is typically about 10 to 15 pieces. You can use anything from pennies, nuts, poker chips, matchsticks, M&Ms, etc.

At the beginning of each round, every player puts one playing piece into the center of the table, or wherever your are playing. Each player will also put one piece into the center when center is empty or only has one piece.

Now, every time it's your turn, you will spin the dreidel once, and depending on how the dreidel lays, you will either give or get pieces from the center.

  • Nun means nothing, which means you do nothing.
  • Gimmel means everything, which means you get everything that's in the center.
  • Hey means half, which means you half of what's in the center. If there is an odd number, you'll take half plus one.
  • Shin means put in, which means that you add playing piece to the center.

In another version of the game, the letters mean:

  • Nun means take, which means you take one piece from the center.
  • Gimmel means give, which means you put one piece in the center.
  • Hey means half, which means you half of what's in the center. If there is an odd number, you'll take half plus one.
  • Shin means still, which means that nothing happens and your turn is skipped to the next person.

 

When you do not have any playing pieces left, you are either out or you can ask another player for a loan.

The game is over when one player has won all of the playing pieces.

 

Flickr Image by Secret Seasons
Flickr Image by Secret Seasons

South Park - Dreidel Song

Dreidel Song Lyrics

I have a little dreidel

I made it out of clay

And when it's dry and ready

Then dreidel I shall play.

*

Chorus: Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

I made it out of clay,

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,

Then dreidel I shall play.

*

It has a lovely body,

With legs so short and thin,

And when it is all tired

It drops and then I win.

*

(chorus)

*

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

With legs so short and thin

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

It drops and then I win.

*

(chorus)

*

My dreidel's always playful,

It loves to dance and spin

A happy game of dreidel

Come play, now let's begin.

*

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

It loves to dance and spin.

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

Come play now, let's begin.

Children's Dreidel Books

Teaching Your Children About the Dreidel

If you are a practicing Jew, you want to make sure that you start teaching your children about the Jewish practices and religious rites, which means teach your child about the dreidel.

Although, many people see playing the dreidel game as a silly game, it is a part of the Jewish religion, and if you want to instill the Jewish traditions into your child, so that he, or she, continues to further the religion in your family.

There are many books that you can purchase for your younger children, to make things more interesting and lively, and I'd consider checking them out when you are ready to start talking to your young child about the Jewish religion. 

Comments

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    • dawnM profile image

      Dawn Michael 

      7 years ago from THOUSAND OAKS

      We did the dreidel game in my sons class for the holiday party, it was really and educational. Great hub

    • Brally Micle profile image

      Brally Micle 

      8 years ago from NEW York

      looks very beautiful

    • profile image

      fun_monkeykool 

      9 years ago

      this is frickin awesome.

    • Woody Marx profile image

      Woody Marx 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wonderful memories of the dreidel...this Hub brought back many of them!  Thanks Whitney for telling us all about this important tradition!

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