Learn about about playing dreidel – rules for playing the game, and the history of the game.
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There is a pretty large Jewish population at my kids’ school, and both first grader Johnny and kindergartener Lily’s classes learned how to play Dreidel on the 16th – the first day of Hanukkah that year. Third grader Emma was upset to miss out (her class may have played as well, but she had to stay home sick that day, much to her dismay).
Johnny and Lily had really enjoyed the game, so I found a printable dreidel for the kids to make so we could play at home.
They each decorated a dreidel and then put it together – Anna chose to leave hers colored but unassembled. Johnny’s dreidel (far right at the top; Lily’s is in the middle and Emma’s on the left) wound up being quite a bit sturdier than the girls’ dreidels, because Emma and Lily refused to have any tape visible from the outside. Even Johnny’s dreidel is fairly fragile, though, and I wound up buying a wooden dreidel at Whole Foods for $1.99 so that they could play properly. Dreidels are also fairly inexpensive on Amazon, if you can’t find one locally (affiliate link).
How to Play Dreidel
The rules of Dreidel are simple:
All players begin with the same amount of “currency”. Traditional currency is chocolate coins (gelt). I offered my children m&ms in place of the traditional gelt (chocolate coins), but they didn’t like the idea of one kid winning something so valuable. So they substituted glass florist marbles and didn’t eat any m&ms at all. This is just proof that you really can you anything you like to play!
Players each start by putting one piece of currency in the pot. Then they take turns spinning the dreidel. Different things happen for different sides of the dreidel, as illustrated beautifully in this video:
This is only ONE of the ways to interpret the game. Two of my kids were taught different rules by two different Jewish friends, and it turns out that there are few different ways you can play. This is not surprising with a game that has been played for hundreds of years.
The History of Dreidel
I wanted to teach some history to go along with the game, but I was having a hard time figuring out what the game had to do with Hanukkah. As it turns out, I had good reason to be confused. The game dreidel is based off of (Teetotum) had nothing to do with Hanukkah. This is like how several traditions now associated with Christmas have non-Christian origins.
I didn’t want my kids to associate Hanukkah only with gifts their friends receive and playing dreidel. So we talked about how it is celebrating a lamp that miraculously stayed lit for 8 days when the Jerusalem Temple was rededicated. We also talked about how Hanukkah is a time when Jews often give to the poor and needy. Again, this is like how Christians often focus more on charity during the days leading up to Christmas. You can learn more about Hanukkah traditions in this wonderful post written by my friend Natalie for the Multicultural Kid Blogs.
What winter holiday does your family celebrate? Do you have a favorite tradition for my family to learn about?
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