A dreidel is a toy top that is used to play a special Hanukkah game. Each side of the dreidel is labeled with a special Hebrew symbol. The symbols are Hebrew letters which consist of Nun, Gimmel, Hay and Shin. These letters make up the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Haya Shom" which, translated into engllish means "A Great Miracle Happened There". In Israel one side of the dreidel is labeled with the Hebrew letter "Pei" so that what the dreidel reads is "A great miracle happened here". The statement and the game itself is meant to remind the Jewish peoples of the miracle of the oil that was used to light the holy lamps and kept them lit for eight days despite only being enough to keep them lit for one. This game is played each hanukkah and can be a way to teach children about hanukkah and the important event that the symbols represent.
Another possible meaning of the four symbols is that they represent the four the kingdoms that tried to destroy the Jewish peoples. The four kingdoms consist of Babylon, Rome, Persia, and Greece. However many people believe that the dreidel game had nothing to do with Hanukkah originally.
To play dreidel a group of people is needed. Although the game can be played with as few as two people, many more can play. Tokens are then needed. The most commonly used item for this is a chocolate candy in the shape of coins called gelt. Any little item can be used. Other common items include pennies, or nuts, even matchsticks.
The gelt, or whatever item is being used, is divided amongst the players and everyone puts one piece in the middle or the "pot". Each player then begins taking turns, usually starting with either the youngest or the oldest. To play the player spins the dreidel and then the next action depends on which of the four dreidel sides. The symbols on the dreidel have different meanings when playing the game. Nun means that nothing happens on that turn and the dreidel is passed. Gimel means that the player gets to gather all of the gelt that is in the pot. If Hay is the symbol facing up the player gets half of the gelt in the pot. Shin indicates that the player must put a piece of their own gelt into the pot. The turn always ends after one spin and the dreidel is passed onto the next player. If a played loses all of their pieces they are out of the game. If someone wins the whole pot then each player must put one piece into the pot to resume play. The game generally continues until one player holds all the pieces.