Haz girar un dreidel: Hanukkah Games, History & DIY Guide

haz girar un dreidel

The cheerful phrase “haz girar un dreidel” heralds the arrival of Hanukkah, a season of lights, laughter, and joyous traditions. The dreidel, a simple spinning top, lies at the heart of these celebrations.  But this four-sided wonder is far more than just a game piece. It’s a symbol of resilience, miracles, and the warmth of shared traditions.  Join us as we delve into the meaning behind the spin, discover playful dreidel game variations, and even learn how to make your very own unique dreidel!

1. What is a Dreidel?

The dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is an iconic symbol of Hanukkah. Beyond being a fun game piece, it holds deep historical and symbolic meaning.  While dreidel games and spinning are inherently connected to the phrase “haz girar un dreidel”, it’s crucial to understand what a dreidel represents before learning the gameplay itself.

The Dreidel’s Symbols and Meaning

Each side of a dreidel bears a Hebrew letter. These four letters form an acronym that tells a powerful story:

  • Nun (נ) Stands for the word “Nes” meaning “a miracle”.
  • Gimel (ג) Stands for the word “Gadol” meaning “great”.
  • Hei (ה) Stands for the word “Hayah” meaning “happened”.
  • Shin (ש) Stands for the word “Sham” meaning “there”.

Together, these letters form the phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” – “A great miracle happened there”. This refers to the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees’ victory.

A Brief History of the Dreidel

The dreidel has a fascinating history that highlights Jewish resilience. Its origins are believed to be tied to a similar top called a teetotum,  popular in Europe. During the rule of Antiochus IV, a Hellenistic Greek king, studying the Torah was outlawed.  To circumvent this ban, Jewish children would gather to study, but keep a teetotum on hand. If soldiers arrived, they’d pretend to be gambling.

Over time, the game took on a unique Jewish identity. The Hebrew letters and their meaning were added, transforming the teetotum into the dreidel we know today. The dreidel became a secret symbol of defiance and a tool for keeping Jewish tradition alive in times of adversity.

2. How to Play Dreidel

“Haz girar un dreidel” means “make a dreidel spin”, and that’s precisely what you’ll be doing in this fun Hanukkah game! Dreidel is a simple yet exciting game of chance, perfect for gatherings of friends and family. Here’s how to get the game going:

Gather Your Supplies

  • Dreidels: You’ll need one dreidel for each player. You can find dreidels made from wood, plastic, or even chocolate!
  • Game Pieces: Traditionally, chocolate gelt (coins) are used, but you can use any small objects like candies, nuts, raisins, or even pennies.

The Rules Explained

  1. The Ante: Everyone starts with an equal number of game pieces (usually 10-15).
  2. Forming the Pot:  At the start of each round, each player puts one game piece into the center to form the “pot.”
  3. Taking Turns:  Players take turns spinning the dreidel. Once the dreidel stops spinning, the letter facing up determines the action:
    • Nun (נ): “Nisht” or “nothing” happens. Your turn ends.
    • Gimel (ג): “Gantz” or “everything” – You win the entire pot!
    • Hei (ה): “Halb” or “half” – You take half the pot (if there’s an odd number, round up).
    • Shin (ש): “Shtel” or “put in” – You add one game piece to the pot.
  4. Empty Pot:  If the pot is empty or has only one game piece, everyone puts one more game piece in.
  5. Losing and Winning: A player is out of the game when they run out of game pieces. The game continues until one player has all the game pieces –  they’re the winner!

Antes, Pots, and Taking Turns

It’s crucial to understand that the central actions within the phrase “haz girar un dreidel” revolve around adding to the pot, taking from it, or leaving it as is.  The dynamics of the shifting pot and the dreidel’s outcome create moments of excitement and the potential for shifting fortunes!

Variations of Dreidel Games

The classic dreidel game is just the beginning!  Here are a few variations to add some extra fun:

  • Team Play: Divide into teams and combine your winnings. The team with the most game pieces at the end wins.
  • High Stakes: Set higher antes or require multiple pieces added to the pot after a “Shin”.
  • Dreidel Olympics: Incorporate multiple rounds or a series of mini-games using the dreidel to determine outcomes.

3. Why Do We Spin the Dreidel?

Spinning the dreidel – “haz girar un dreidel” – isn’t just about a fun game. It’s an act deeply connected to Jewish history, triumph, and the very heart of the Hanukkah celebration.

The Story of the Dreidel and the Maccabees

In the 2nd century BCE, the Land of Israel was under the rule of the Seleucid Empire and its king, Antiochus IV.  Determined to Hellenize the Jewish people, he outlawed Judaism, desecrated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and demanded the worship of Greek gods.  This oppression sparked a revolt led by the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish warriors.

Against incredible odds, the Maccabees were victorious. Their first priority was to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only one small cruse of pure olive oil, enough to keep the Temple’s eternal flame lit for just one day. Miraculously, that tiny amount of oil lasted for eight full days, the time needed to prepare a new supply.

The dreidel emerged as a commemoration of this period. During Antiochus’ rule, Jews risked their lives to study Torah. When soldiers approached, children would pretend to play with spinning tops – the early dreidels. The Hebrew letters acted as a coded reminder of the miracle that had occurred (“Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” – A great miracle happened there).

Celebrating Hanukkah and Miracles

The Hanukkah story is a powerful reminder of faith, resilience, and the triumph of light over darkness. Spinning the dreidel (“haz girar un dreidel”) during Hanukkah serves multiple purposes:

  • Remembering the Miracle: The very action of spinning the dreidel evokes the miracle of the oil and kindles a sense of wonder within players.
  • Preserving Traditions: The game has been passed down for generations, keeping Jewish customs alive and connecting families to their heritage
  • Teaching Values: The dreidel’s symbols remind players of the Maccabees’ bravery and the importance of fighting for religious freedom.
  • Simply Having Fun!: The excitement of the game adds a joyful and festive dimension to the Hanukkah celebrations.

4.Get Creative with Your Dreidel

The phrase “haz girar un dreidel” is usually about spinning a traditional dreidel, but there’s room for so much more creativity in celebrating Hanukkah.  Let’s go beyond the basic dreidel and add some personalized flair!

DIY Dreidels

Making your own dreidel is a fantastic way to personalize the game and infuse your Hanukkah celebration with a touch of handmade charm. Here are a few ideas:

  • Clay Creations: Sculpt your own dreidel out of polymer clay and bake it. Paint on the Hebrew letters and add a touch of glitter!
  • Recycled Crafts: Upcycle materials like cardboard boxes, milk cartons, or bottle caps. Decorate them to transform everyday objects into unique dreidels.
  • Nature-Inspired: Gather a sturdy twig or pinecone. Use a marker to add the Hebrew letters directly, maintaining a rustic and charming look.

Edible Dreidels (and yummy Hanukkah snacks)

Combine Hanukkah traditions with delicious treats!

  • Marshmallow Magic: Use large marshmallows as the base. Poke a pretzel stick through the center for spinning. Decorate with frosting or melted chocolate to represent the Hebrew letters.
  • Cookie Dreidels: Bake sugar cookies in a four-sided shape or use cookie cutters to create dreidel designs. Decorate with icing and sprinkles.
  • Fruit Fun: Arrange fruit pieces (like strawberries or banana slices) on a plate to roughly resemble a dreidel. This adds a healthy and colorful element to your snack table.

Dreidels in Pop Culture

The dreidel’s cultural impact extends beyond traditional games. This highlights the importance of the iconic spinning top within Jewish culture, and makes for some interesting ways to connect the phrase “haz girar un dreidel” to broader trends:

  • Musical Moments: There are countless fun Hanukkah songs about dreidels! Explore these for a playful addition to your celebrations.
  • Dreidels on Screen: Several TV shows and movies, especially those centered around Jewish families, often feature scenes of dreidel games during Hanukkah.
  • Modern Designs: Search online for trendy dreidel designs – from sleek minimalist styles to pop art-inspired creations. These show how the dreidel remains a relevant symbol today.

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5. Dreidel Fun for Everyone

The joy of saying “haz girar un dreidel” and playing the dreidel game transcends age! Whether you’re gathering with young children or a group of adults, there are fantastic ways to tailor the experience to keep everyone entertained.

Dreidel Games for Kids

Keep dreidel games exciting and engaging for young players with these ideas:

  • Simplified Rules: Focus on the core concepts of spinning the dreidel and winning game pieces. Don’t worry too much about emptying the pot or complex rules.
  • Sweet Prizes: Use candies, small toys, or stickers as game pieces to boost the excitement.
  • Creative Storytelling: While playing, weave in the story of Hanukkah and the miracle of the oil in terms kids can understand. This adds a meaningful layer to the game.
  • Team Up!: Encourage kids to work together as teams so they can share the fun and experience of winning.

Dreidel Games for Adults

While the classic dreidel game is always fun, here are some variations to spice things up for adult gatherings:

  • Raise the Stakes: Increase the ante or even use small denominations of money for a more exciting dynamic.
  • Dreidel Tournament: Organize a bracketed tournament, adding a competitive element to your Hanukkah festivities.
  • Themed Variations: Incorporate challenges or trivia related to Hanukkah, Jewish history, or pop culture. The winner of each round could spin the dreidel to determine the next question.
  • Dreidel Cocktails (or Mocktails): If you’re so inclined, create special Hanukkah-themed drinks and let the dreidel determine which one everyone sips on next.

Important Note: Regardless of age, the primary goal of “haz girar un dreidel” is to have fun and celebrate together. Adjust the games to suit your group’s mood and interests, ensuring everyone enjoys the spirit of Hanukkah.


From its origins as a symbol of defiance to its place in joyous Hanukkah celebrations, the dreidel holds a special significance in Jewish culture. “Haz girar un dreidel” represents more than just a spinning top –  it embodies tradition, the miraculous, and the warmth of shared moments.

Whether you’ve enjoyed the classic game for years or discovered new creative variations, the dreidel has the power to evoke feelings of warmth, light, and playful celebration during Hanukkah.

Call to Action Ideas

Now it’s your turn to keep the tradition alive and the dreidels spinning!

  • Share the Joy: Do you have a treasured dreidel memory or a unique family game variation? Leave a comment below and inspire others to embrace the magic of “haz girar un dreidel”.
  • Get Creative: The spirit of Hanukkah encourages creativity and resourcefulness! Try making your own dreidel with your chosen materials. Share a picture of your creation and inspire others to do the same!
  • Spread the Light: Whether by spinning the dreidel, indulging in delicious treats, or sharing the Hanukkah story, let the light of this special holiday shine through you and into your community.

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