The older boy, many years ago.

Tonight at sundown, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah begins! We have already begun celebrating; last night our old friends came over for a pre-holiday dinner (because we couldn’t match schedules during the holiday!) and we had our Annual Hanukkah-palooza. I wrote about it last year when I had about three readers, and frankly this year was almost exactly the same: same food, same people, same fun, so I think last year’s post still holds. Click here to read about our fun evening and see photos of the phenomenally fattening–but delicious–food we made.

Now, a little about dreidels.

Basically a dreidel is a four-sided top which has four Hebrew letters on it: nun, gimel, hay, and shin. The letters stand for the words “Nes Gadol Haya Sham”, which means “A great miracle happened there.”


One interesting fact: Israeli dreidels replace the letter shin with the letter pay, and the letters then stand for the words “Nes Gadol Haya Po”, which means “A great miracle happened HERE.” (I love that!)

You may be surprised to know that dreidels don’t just come in one form. The most familiar kind looks like this:


There are in fact, countless different kinds of dreidels, from cheap toys (above) to actual, collectible works of art:


I know that some of you may wonder how to play dreidel, so…here we go! Playing the dreidel game is gambling; I’ll just put it all out there. It’s religiously-accepted gambling.

All players begin with candies, pennies, Hanukkah gelt, or other small objects that they will place in the “pot” (the center). To start the game, everyone puts one of their whatevers into the pot. The first person spins the dreidel, and his or her actions are determined by which letter is facing up when the dreidel lands:

Nun: Nothing happens.
Gimel: The player takes everything in the pot (like landing on “Free Parking” in Monopoly)
Hay: The player takes half of everything in the pot
Shin: The player puts one into the pot

That’s pretty much it! Simple, huh? It’s a fun game and can take as little or as much time as you want.

One more thing: did you know that there is NOT just one dreidel song? Click here to watch a children’s group sing “the other one”. The director talks a little bit about the song meaning in the beginning. I like this song lots better than the one everyone else knows, which the same group sings at the end (just fast-forward to about 3:18!).

Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers! Seven more crazy posts to go!