The Hanukkah Game

The dreidel (also dreidl, dreidle, dreydel, and draydel; sevivon in Hebrew) is a spinning top used to play the traditional dreidel game during Hanukkah.

Black-and-white photograph showing two boys and a girl playing dreidel at a table. A Hanukkah menorah stands on the table with all of the candles lit.

The photograph Kinder beim Trendelspiel (“Children Playing Dreidel”) was taken by Herbert Sonnenfeld in 1934 in Berlin; Jewish Museum Berlin


The four sides of the top, which is shaped like a die, bear the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin (or peh). These are the first letters of the words in the sentence “Nes gadol hayah sham” (or “Nes gadol hayah poh”), which means “A great miracle happened there” or “A great miracle happened here”—depending on whether the game is played in the Diaspora or in Israel.

A pile of chocolate coins with Hanukkah menorahs on them

Our Hanukkah Gelt is ready…

Game Instructions

To play the dreidel game, each player first puts an agreed-upon number of playing pieces in the middle of the table.

These pieces can be chocolate Hanukkah coins or any countable object. Usually the youngest player begins. The players take turns spinning the top, and the letter that faces up when it stops determines the player’s next action.

Schwarz-Weiß-Fotografie, die einen Jungen mit Dreidel an einem Tisch zeigt. Am Bildrand ist ein zweiter Junge zu sehen

Junge mit Trendelspiel (“Boy with Dreidel”) by Herbert Sonnenfeld, Berlin 1934; Jewish Museum Berlin. You can find more photos by Herbert Sonnenfeld in our online collection (in German).

“Nun” means “nothing”: the player forfeits a turn.

“Gimel” means “good” or “complete”: the player is in luck and gets to keep everything in the pot.

“Hay” means “half”: the player gets half of what is in the pot.

“Shin” or “peh” means “bad”: the player must place one or two coins from their play money in the middle of the table.

When a player has lost all of their money, they are out of the game.


The rules of the game are also printed on our downloadable DIY dreidel sheet (in German). In order to make the dreidel, you’ll need scissors, some glue, and a pencil.

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