Post by PJ of A Girl Named PJ
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time to focus on the next big holiday this season — and for my family, that’s Hanukkah. For eight nights beginning on Sunday, December 6th, we’ll light the menorah, open presents, eat latkes and play dreidel.
The Land of Nod sent over some of their lovely hand-painted Spin Along dreidels for our celebration, and I’m excited to use them to teach my four-year-old son how to play the traditional Hanukkah game. Last year we had fun showing him how to make the dreidel spin, but I think he’s old enough now to sit and play the easy gambling game.
That’s right. The four-sided spinning top emblazoned with the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hay, and shin is used to play an old-fashioned gambling game. Here are my easy to follow instructions for how to play dreidel.
You only need two players to play dreidel, but any number of people can join the fun. Everybody starts with the same amount of game pieces, which could be pennies, gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins called gelt, M&Ms, buttons, or even Cheerios. Ten-to-20 pieces per player is usually enough.
Each participants puts an agreed upon amount of game pieces into the center pot, then the first person spins the dreidel. The Hebrew letter facing up when the dreidel falls determines whether that player gives or gets from the pot. Here’s any easy way to remember what each letter represents:
Nun stands for nothing. You neither give nor take game pieces from the pot.
Gimmel stands for get. Congratulations, you get everything in the pot! (But the game isn’t over yet. Everybody replenishes the pot with the agreed upon amount of pieces.)
Hay stands for half. You can take half of what’s in the pot. If there are an odd amount of game pieces, you get half plus one.
Shin stands for put in. Go ahead and add one piece to the pot.
When you run out of game pieces, you’re out. When one person wins all the pieces, the game is over! (Hint: For a faster game of dreidel, start with fewer pieces.)
Finally, here’s a little piece of dreidel trivia. The Hebrew letters on each of the four sides stand for the phrase “Nes gad hayah sham,” which translates to “a great miracle happened there.” Since “there” refers to Israel, dreidels in Israel don’t have the letter shin on them. Instead, they have a pey, changing the expression to “a great miracle happened here.” Cool, right?
Happy spinning – and happy Hanukkah!
PJ Feinstein is the author of A Girl Named PJ, a lifestyle blog offering fashion and beauty tips, design inspiration, commentary on pop culture, thoughts on personal growth, and honest talk about motherhood. She lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband, two young sons, and stubborn (but adorable!) small white dog.