How to Play Dreidel: Rules and History

Learn about about playing dreidel – rules for playing the game, and the history of the game.

learn how to play Dreidel

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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.

playing-dreidel

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.

Dreidel rules and history

What winter holiday does your family celebrate? Do you have a favorite tradition for my family to learn about?

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

14 thoughts on “How to Play Dreidel: Rules and History”

  1. I am Jewish so we celebrate Hannukah with my family and Christmas with my husbands family. The letters on the dreidel are an acronym for “Great Miracle Happened Here” referring to the oil burning for 8 days. You play for gelt (Yiddish for gold) as that is the traditional gift.

  2. Elisa | blissfulE

    That’s so smart that they foresaw the potential problems of playing with candy and decided to use glass marbles instead! It’s confusing how Jewish and Christian traditions get mixed up with pagan ones through the centuries – at this point we can see in them what we look for. We hope to put up our Christmas tree today! Evergreen and full of lights, for our family it represents Jesus’ eternal life and that He is the light of the world.

  3. We celebrate Christmas, but after learning about Hanukkah at school (yeah teachers!) my kids have been obsessed with playing dreidel for several years. I finally bought a wooden dreidel and gelt a couple of years back, and now it’s part of our annual holiday tradition. Makes me happy to have found another way to raise global kids who appreciate other customs and cultures.

  4. I didn’t even know it was a game, MaryAnne! Both my family and my husband’s family celebrate Christmas so that’s what we roll with with our kids :)

  5. I remember learning about Hanukkah when we lived in California and playing the dreidel game also. We learned about the whole story of Hanukkah last year in history, and I’d meant to bring it up again with the kids this year, but the best laid plans….

  6. My oldest loves Jewish holidays for the food! She was lucky to attend her friend’s Hanukkah party this year and she told them that I was gifted the Jerusalem cookbook because my daughter loves Jewish food so much! They found this so amusing! It’s true! She might convert for the food LOL! We have a large Jewish population as well and I think it’s so enriching for our community!

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