How to Play Dreidel?

Hanukkah Dreidel

The Dreidel (or spinning top) is one of the most joyous parts of Hanukkah celebrations. And the whole family can play together, no experience necessary!

The word dreidel (or sevivon in Hebrew) comes from a German word meaning, “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Hanukkah game adapted from an old German gambling game.

Hanukkah was one of the few times of the year when the rabbis permitted games of chance.

Here’s how to play (watch video below to see it in action!): Players begin by putting into the collective pot a certain number of coins, chocolate money (known as Hanukkah gelt), nuts, or other small objects.

Each player then takes a turn spinning the dreidel. Each of the four sides of the top has a Hebrew letter: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin.

The side that is on top when the dreidel stops spinning determines whether a player gets a reward, or nothing at all. Here’s how the reward is calculated: Dreidel_w_Captions

What do the letters mean?
The letters on the dreidel were interpreted to stand for the first letters of the Hebrew statement, “Nes gadol hayah sham,” which means “A Great Miracle Happened There” and refers to the defeat of the Syrian Greek army and the re-dedication of the Temple. In Israel, the dreidels are slightly different. The shin (ש) is replaced with a pey (פ), transforming the Hebrew statement into Nes gadol hayah po, “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”

According to legend, the game dates from the time of the original Hanukkah story, when the Syrian Greeks banned Torah study. Groups of Jews are thought to have secretly met to study Torah. The children would be on the lookout for the soldiers, while innocently playing a game with a spinning top, the dreidel, outside the door. If the children saw a soldier approach, they would alert the adults studying Torah inside.

judaicaOn a personal note, I am enormously proud and inspired by my mother, Myra Yellin Outwater, who wrote and compiled the photos in an incredible book called “Judaica.” I wanted to share her beautiful work with you. Here is a link to her Dreidel Gallery .




Contemporary Yiddish and North American Songs for Hanukkah:

Here are a couple of favorite songs to sing during Hanukkah:

I Have a Little Dreidel

I have a little dreidel,
I made it out of clay.
And when it’s dry and ready,
Then dreidel I shall play.

It has a lovely body.
With leg so short and thin.
And when it gets all tired,
It drops and then I win.

Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made it out of clay;
And when it’s dry and ready.
Then dreidel I shall play

(Chorus again)
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel,
I made it out of clay;
And when it’s dry and ready.
Then dreidel I shall play

Oh Hanukkah
Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah!

Come light the Menorah.
Let’s have a party.
We’ll all dance the hora.

Gather round the table,
We’ll give you a treat,
S’vivon to play with,
Latkes to eat.

And while we are playing
The candles are burning low.
One for each night,
They shed a sweet light,
To remind us of days long ago.