What Do the Symbols on a Dreidel Mean?

Several dreidels lying on their sides.
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A dreidel is a top associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each of the four sides of the top features a Hebrew letter, which are an acrostic for the Hebrew phrase meaning “A Great Miracle Happened There.”

1 Game

Dreidel is a children's game, in which each player puts something in the pot in the middle, often candy. Each player spins the dreidel, taking from or giving more to the pot according to which letter comes up. In the game, the letters represent Hebrew words.

2 Nun -- נ

The letter nun stands for the Hebrew word "nes," meaning "miracle." In the game, it means "nisht" or "nothing." If this comes up, the person spinning does nothing.

3 Gimmel -- ג

Gimmel stands for "gadol," meaning "great" or "large." For the player, it means "gantz," which is "everything." This player gets to take the whole pot for himself.

4 Heh -- ה

Heh begins the word "hayah," meaning "it was" or "it happened." It also means "halb," or "half," and the player spinning this gets half of what is in the pot.

5 Shin -- ש

The letter shin has three prongs facing upwards and looks something like a capital E on its back. It stands for the word "sham," meaning "there." In the game, it means "shtel," which means "put in." A player getting this has to put one of his pieces into the pot.

6 Peh -- פ

Dreidels made in Israel, such as that shown above, use the letter peh to stand for "po," or "here," to signify that Israel is where the Chanukkah miracle happened. In the game, it counts as a shin. Though shin and peh have the opposite meaning of "there" and "here," they have the same effect in the game.