Playing a game of dreidel is a common practice during Hanukkah, a traditional celebration in the Jewish calendar in honor of the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem.
While Hanukkah traditions do not include playing with the dreidel as a mandatory practice, it has nonetheless become part of the Hanukkah tradition to add a festive mood to the occasion.
Dreidel sizes basically come in dimensions of 3.5 inches high x 1.5 inches wide for the regular size, while smaller versions are also available measuring approximately 2 inches high and 1.5 inches wide.
A more elaborately-designed dreidel may be a bit taller, measuring at least 4 inches high. Usually, when you purchase a dreidel, it comes with a base to give you specific spot to spin the top on.
Most dreidels are made of wood but the ones with more elegant designs are usually made from ceramic, silver or brass materials.
How to Play the Game
There are very simple rules on how to play the game of dreidel. Each dreidel comes with 4 symbols, one for each side of the spinning top. These are basically 4 letters from the Hebrew alphabet.
Nun means nothing, Gimel in English translation means all, Hei means half and finally, Shin is translated as put.
To start the game, players are asked to put their “bets” in the pot, which usually are chocolate gelt coins. Each player is required to bet one gelt. Players will take turns spinning the dreidel.
For every letter that faces up, the player who spun the top should do exactly what the letter means. So if the player gets Nun, he need not do anything except wait for his turn again.
If Gimel comes up, the player gets all the pot; Hei shows facing up, the player gets ½ the pot and if Shin is shown after a spin, the player adds one more gelt or bet to the pot.
The player with the most number of acquired gelt coins is declared the winner. At any time during the game, if a player has “lost” all of his gelt coins, he is taken out of the game unless another player “lends” him some of his own gelt.
Incidentally, playing the game of dreidel has become as more than just a household game. There are tournaments being played across North America coinciding with the celebration of Hanukkah.