The word dreidel derives from a German word meaning “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Chanukkah game adapted from an old German gambling game. (Historically, Chanukkah was one of the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance.)

Over time, the letters on the dreidel were reinterpreted to stand for the first letter of each word in the Hebrew statement, “Neis gadol hayah sham,” which means “A great miracle happened there” and refers to the defeat of the Syrian army and the re-dedication of the Temple. In Israel, one letter on the dreidel differs from those used in the rest of the world. The shin has been replaced with a pei, transforming the Hebrew statement into “Neis gadol hayah po,” which means “A great miracle happened here.”

How To Play

This game is best played in groups of 4-6. Each player gets an equal number of pennies, nuts, M&Ms, or whatever you wish to use. Each player puts one in the centre for the “pot.” Each player rolls the dreidel. If it lands on:

Nun = NOTHING: the player gets nothing.
Hay = HALF: the player takes half of the pot.
Gimel = GETS: the player takes all of the pot.
Shin = SHARE: the player puts an M&M (nut, poker chip) into the pot.

Each time the pot is emptied out, each player puts in a coin and the game continues.