Learn how to play dreidel, the classic Hanukkah game, in four easy steps. Bonus: The reason we play dreidel in the first place!
Playing dreidel is a traditional game for kids and adults at Hanukkah, an annual holiday celebrated by Jewish people in late November or December (but please, don’t call it Jewish Christmas).
But other than just spinning it, how do you actually play dreidel? Here’s everything you need to know about these fun spinning tops.
What is a dreidel?
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a pointed bottom. It is used for a game that is traditionally played during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Dreidels come in various sizes and tend to be made out of plastic or wood. Although the word “dreidel” is Yiddish, not Hebrew, each side of a dreidel has a Hebrew letter on it—nun, gimmel, hey or shin—and each letter corresponds to an action the player takes if they land on it.
Why do we play dreidel?
Unlike other Hanukkah traditions, such as lighting candles and saying a prayer, playing dreidel is not required during Hanukkah. It’s just for fun. So why do we play it at all? There are a number of explanations for why. Most Jewish children are told that a long time ago, when Jewish people were forbidden from studying their religion, they would do so anyway—but when officials approached, they would hide their books and play with spinning tops, claiming they were just having fun.
How to play dreidel
Simply spinning a dreidel is an entertaining activity on its own—in fact, that’s all some Jewish kids ever do with a dreidel! They see whose dreidel will spin the longest, and also whether they can spin the dreidel upside down.
However, there’s an actual dreidel game that families can play, and it’s both simple and fun.
The rules for playing dreidel
1. To start, give each player an equal amount of tokens (say, 10 to 15). You can use coins, nuts, buttons or any small objects. As many people can participate as you’d like. Kids, adults—anyone! (Just remember that small items are choking hazards for children under the age of three.)
2. Each player places one game piece in a pot in the middle of the circle.
3. One player spins the dreidel and completes the action determined by the word they land on.
- Land on nun: Nothing happens
- Land on gimmel: Player takes all the tokes in the pot
- Land on hey: Player gets half the pot
- Land on shin: Players adds a token to the pot
4. The player passes the dreidel to the next player to do the same.
5. The winner is the person who collects every single token.
Where to buy a dreidel
Dreidels are easiest to source in November and December. You can find them everywhere from dollar stores to Walmart to Jewish specialty shops, depending on where you live.
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