Fun with Dreidels on Hanukkah

I’m not going to lie to you, folks: Hanukkah has a hard time keeping up with Christmas. We don’t have any seasonal music (although Jews wrote many of the best Christmas songs). We don’t have any animated specials (well, the Grinch is probably Jewish, but I’m not sure if that really helps).We don’t have any delicious and fun-shaped cookies (and latkes are really hard to sneak straight out of the freezer). Worst of all, we don’t even have a lovable mascot dropping off presents, and I’m starting to worry that Herman the Hanukkah Candle might never catch on.

On the plus side we’ve got 8 days of presents (great if you’re a kid, rough if you’re a parent or grandparent) and we can legally play with fire. But the best thing about Hanukkah is that it’s the only holiday with its own game: driedel. And I’m pleased to report that driedel (while no backgammon) is an excellent game.

Of course, the fact that we play the game for chocolate money isn’t exactly helping us overcome any negative stereotypes. (You know the one: that Jews like eating stale chocolate.)

To help my friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, enjoy this year’s holiday here are the rules for three exciting versions of driedel. Personally I prefer to spin the Waterford crystal driedel but if you don’t feel like spending $70 on a pro driedel you can probably pick one up at Walgreens for about a $1.

Classic Dreidel

  • Start with each player having an even number of chocolate coins (gelt)
  • Everyone antes up one coin and the youngest player spins first
  • If you get a Nun = nothing happens
  • If you get a Hay = take half of the pot (take the extra coin if there’s an uneven number)
  • If you get a Gimmel = take the whole pot
  • If you get a Shin = put a coin in the pot
  • When the pot is empty, everyone re-antes
  • When a player runs out of coins they’re out of the game
  • Please note that eating coins is legal but may hasten your exit from the game

Boozy Dreidel

  • Start with each player having a shot glass
  • Agree ahead of time whether you’re playing with beer (fermented grains), Manischewitz (sweet kosher wine) or Slivovitz (plum brandy). Please note that beer will make you sleepy, Manischewitz will give you a headache and Slivovitz will make you start talking like Jackie Mason (and then you’ll get a headache and fall asleep).
  • If you get a Nun = nothing happens
  • If you get a Hay = you take a shot
  • If you get a Gimmel = everyone takes a shot
  • If you get a Shin = you pick someone else to take a shot
  • The average game lasts about 3-5 minutes (non-Jews might last longer)

Baseball Dreidel

  • Start with each player picking a famous Jewish baseball player to represent, e.g. Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Gabe Kapler, Oil Can Boyd, Kevin Youkilis
  • Whoever picks Sandy Koufax can’t play because it’s a Jewish holiday. Ha ha!
  • If you get a Nun = counts as an out
  • If you get a Hay = counts as a single
  • If you get a Gimmel = counts as a double
  • If you get a Shin = counts as a triple
  • Each side only gets one out per half inning (trust me, you need this rule)
  • Runners advance one base per hit
  • First player to 18 wins or you’ll probably be bored after 3 innings (just like real baseball)

Happy Hanukkah everybody!


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