Hanukkah – the Jewish festival of lights – is a special winter holiday that’s best known for the nightly candle-lighting ritual and tasty jam doughnuts called sufganiyot. Another special Hanukkah tradition is the ancient dreidel or spinning top toy. Generations of Jewish children learned to play dreidel during Hanukkah, and the dreidel game is still a big favorite today.
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What is a Dreidel?
A dreidel is a simple four-sided spinning top. It uses a basic design that’s thousands of years old and was popular in many different cultures. The simplicity of dreidels meant that they were easy to make from any lump of scrap wood. Even the poorest families could provide their kids with a fun toy that was robust enough to last for years.
Although dreidels are mainly childrens toys, the original spinning tops (known as teetotums) were also popular with adults. The ancient Greeks and Romans used them a bit like dice in a range of gambling games. Spinning tops were small enough to fit into a pocket or pouch and were a convenient form of entertainment .
Modern Hanukkah Dreidels
A typical modern Hanukkah dreidel follows a basic pattern. It has four sides, each of which is decorated with a single Hebrew letter. The four letters are: נגהש which have an interesting historical meaning.
נגהש The Meaning of
The original teetotum spinning tops were decorated with letters symbolizing the Latin words for
nothing, everything, half, and put in. When people gambled by spinning the teetotum, the letter on the upright face determined whether they’d take money from the common pot, add to it – or get nothing. As the dreidel game developed, Jewish players copied the idea of the letters but wrote them in Hebrew. Just to confuse matters, they used the Hebrew letters to symbolize Yiddish words!
In Three Languages נגהש The Meaning of
|Hebrew Letter||Anglicized Name||Yiddish Word||English Meaning|
|ש||Shin||Shtel Arayn||Put In|
The Meaning of Dreidel
The word dreidel is of Yiddish origin. The Ashkenazi Jews of Northern Europe were practical people who didn’t usually bother with fancy names for simple things. Dreidel comes from the Yiddish word dreyen which means to turn. The dreidel meaning is as straightforward as the dreidel game itself. Like so many Yiddish words, dreidel has entered into modern Hebrew, despite attempts to replace it with a Hebrew version.
How to Play Dreidel
The Hanukkah dreidel game is essentially a fun gambling game for kids. It’s fast moving, needs no special skills and is simple enough for even the smallest children to join in and enjoy themselves.
The dreidel game starts with a bank or a common pot (usually a plate or a silver tray) and an agreed form of counters. These could be small Hanukkah chocolates or candies, raisins, or any other convenient ‘currency’. Every player starts by putting a counter in the pot – and the game begins.
Each player gets to spin a dreidel in turn and hope that a good letter will appear face up. If they spin a –ג – Gimel for Gants they’ll take the bank and all the counters in the pot will be theirs. If the dreidel lands on – ה– Hei for Halb, the player takes half the counters in the pot.
The other two letters on the dreidel are unlucky. If you spin a – נ– Nun for Nisht, you neither win nor lose that turn. If you spin a dreidel and –ש – Shin for Shtel Arayn appears – you lose and have to add to the pot.
Hanukkah dreidel games are fast and fun and never lose their charm. Even a baby or a toddler can sit with the other kids and try to spin a dreidel. Like all games, it’s a great development tool and a useful exercise in hand-eye coordination.
3 Quick Questions About Hanukkah Dreidels and Dreidel Meanings
1. What are Modern Hanukkah Dreidels Made Of?
Modern Hanukkah Dreidels are made of all kinds of materials, including durable child friendly materials. The real Judaica collectors items are handmade from 925 sterling silver and often feature elaborate swirling decorations and intricate silver filigree work.
Dreidels are childrens toys and kids love bright colors. Some of the best modern Hanukkah dreidels are handcrafted from ultra-modern anodized aluminum which comes in a spectrum of bold and vibrant colors. Sterling silver dreidels can get a splash of bright color with special enamel inlays. It’s a real pleasure to spin a dreidel that’s decorated with multi-colored panels and motifs.
2. Are Dreidels a Good Hanukkah Gift?
Dreidels are a wonderful Hanukkah gift! Apart from being a lot of fun to play with, dreidels are a great way to teach a new generation of kids about Jewish tradition. They’re also a great opportunity for adults to recapture something of their own childhood. Everybody loves Hanukkah, and most of us have at least one special memory of the nightly candle lighting, sufganiyot, Hanukkah gelt and playing the dreidel game with friends and family members.
If you’re planning to buy Hanukkah gifts, dreidels are a great choice. They are small items that are easy to wrap and to carry, and there are choices for every budget. If you want to buy a full Hanukkah set for the entire family, it’s worth thinking about including a hanukkiah (the ceremonial nine-branched Hanukkah menorah). Even though you’ll only use it during the annual Hanukkah holiday, it’s a beautiful year-round ornament for any Jewish home.
3. Can I Buy Personalized Dreidels?
Yes – the advantage of buying handmade dreidels from Jerusalem is that our jewelers and silversmiths can easily personalize them for you. Kids love to receive an individual gift with their own name or initials on it. There are loads of ways that we can add English or Hebrew lettering – or both – to a dreidel. The options will depend on the size and shape of each dreidel and the amount of decoration that it already has. Possibilities include colored enamel inlay, engraving, silver solder letters, silver beading, or precision stamping.
to see our entire catalog of Personalized Dreidels
You can also commission your own unique design. If you want to order a set of dreidels for all the family, or your grandkids, or nephews and nieces, our English-speaking designers have a lot of experience. They’ll work with you to create a special family set with whatever decorations and personal touches you want. If you want to commission a single collector’s piece, either for yourself or as a special gift, we can draw on centuries of traditional designs or the latest modern styles and materials.
Buy Hanukkah dreidels and Hanukkah gifts online today