When it comes to symbols of Hanukkah, the dreidel gives the menorah some stark competition — and not just because it's part of a gambling game.
After all, the menorah (which is technically called a "hanukiah," as it is specific to the holiday and has nine branches to a more everyday menorah's seven, according to Hanukkah Fun) might be very pretty to look at, but is a serious "don't go near that!" object for the kids. Meanwhile, dreidels just beg to be spun and collected, and yes, there is even the potential to take away dozens of pennies if you win the game.
The Hanukkah toy has one Hebrew letter on each of its four sides: nun, gimel, hay and sheen, which stands for "Nes Gadol Haya Shum" (a great miracle happened there). This is in reference to the miracle of the Maccabees' oil lasting for eight days rather than what should have been one night.
But the fun really comes in with the game aspect. As Kveller explains, it starts with each player (and you can have as many players as you want) getting 10 to 15 game pieces, whether it's a penny, a candy or gelt, the chocolate coins given out at Hanukkah.
At the start of the round, each player puts in one piece. Then, you go around in a circle, each taking a turn spinning the dreidel. Depending on which letter the dreidel lands on, you each do nothing (that's "nun"), you take everything (that's "gimmel"), you take half (that's "hay") or you put in a piece (that's "shin"). Here's a useful illustration, courtesy of Learning Centers International:
Not only do dreidels provide tons of entertainment for the kids (and more than a few grownups), they also give you plenty of options for holiday decorating. We mean really, what's the other option — hanging up latkes? Check out these cute ideas for decorating with dreidels: