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One of several Hanukkah traditions is spinning the dreidel. However, how many of us who don’t celebrate Hanukkah every year actually know what spinning the dreidel entails? Well, it’s a lot more interesting than you may think. 


lit menorah surrounded by challah and jelly donuts for hanukkah
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

A dreidel is a four sided spinning top used in the celebrations of Hanukkah, with each side of the dreidel bearing a different letter from the Hebrew alphabet. The different Hebrew letters represent different words in Yiddish.

The different sides are as represented: 

Nisht which means Nothing 

Gants which means All 

Halb which means Half 

Shetl Arayn which means Put In 

Together, these mean Nes gadol hayan sham which translates to A great miracle happened there which refers to the miracle of the oil in the menorah burning for eight nights. 

How to Play! 

  • Each player begins with equal amounts of game pieces (these are sometimes chocolate pieces, nuts, or pennies.) 
  • At the beginning of every round each player places one piece in the centre “pot” (similar to a poker pot). Similarly, every time the pot is nearly empty (or completely), the players must place another piece into the pot. 
  • On your turn, you spin the dreidel once. Depending on which side it lands on is what you receive from the pot. (While most dreidels only have the Hebrew lettering on the side, some have the Yiddish or English translation). 
  • If you have no game pieces left, you are out and lost. When one person has won everything they are the winner of that round! 

While spinning the dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah celebration, it is not played by everyone. 

But it is a fun game to play around the holidays for both adults and children. 

This year, Hanukkah falls from December 10, 2020 to December 18, 2020. 

Maddie is a fourth year student at the University of Ottawa majoring in History. She is a major fan of Friends, and The Office and is a geek for all things history. Maddie loves food, relaxing, and her cat.
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