In this four-part series How to Celebrate Hanukkah we've explained what Hanukkah is and the importance of the Menorah, How to light the Menorah and the blessings that go along with the lighting. Today is all about the fun and games.
Fun and Games!
The traditional, fun game to play at Hanukkah is the Dreidel game! Judaism does not at all encourage gambling, but this is one gambling game that is enjoyed each year. Historically, during times of persecution when the study of Hebrew and Torah was forbidden, Jewish children would learn with a teacher anyway. When soldiers would investigate, they would spin a dreidel they kept handy and pretend to be playing a local game. As it was a game of chance involving money, they would have coins on the table too. However, the actual purpose for these was to pay their usually impoverished Hebrew teacher! Interestingly, the word Hanukkah and the Hebrew word for education, “hinukh”, have the same root letters.
A dreidel (Yiddish - rhymes with cradle), or a sevivon in Hebrew, is a small four-sided spinning top. Traditionally, the letters on the four sides of the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hey, shin, which are the first letters of Nes, Gadol, Haya, Sham – "A Great Miracle Happened There." Since the restoration of the State of Israel, the last letter is replaced with a pey, for Poh, meaning “Here”.
To play the game, players can use traditional chocolate coins, called Gelt, or use pennies, buttons or cardboard pieces as tokens. Each player puts one into the "pot" in the center. If a small number are playing put in two or three each. The first player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When the dreidel stops, the letter facing up determines:
Nun – Nothing! Nothing happens; the next player spins the dreidel.
Gimmel – Great! The spinner takes all in the pot.
Hey – Half! The spinner takes half of the pot.
Peh – Put in! The spinner puts the set number of tokens (1-3) into the pot.
Homemade dreidels are easy to make. Cut cardboard into two-inch squares. Draw diagonal lines on back. Make a hole in the center with a pin. Decorate the face of the square including the four letters and/or words. Insert a toothpick and push through about one-third of the length of the toothpick. That’s it. Spin away!
Have a Hanukkah Party!
Invite family and friends for one or more of the nights of Hanukkah. Have everyone bring a menorah. Start the party off with candle-lighting, to make the room glow brightly Get some Dreidels for spinning contests, and chocolate gelt or tokens that you can eat-win or lose! Copy printed sheets with blessings and songs for the participants, a great teaching opportunity! As a quieter time of inspiration in the candlelight, have someone read a Hanukkah story out loud. You can share readings from Scripture – e.g., read a Psalm: 30, 115 – 117; 1 Chronicles 16:8-13; Zech. 4 & 14, and excerpts from 2 Maccabees; and the Gospels- Matthew 2 & 5; John 10:22. It’s fun to make it a craft time! Make dreidels, cards, menorahs, and they make great gifts. Some families enjoy a gift exchange. Each person brings one. (Limit cost e.g. $5-$10). Put them all in a pile, and choose numbers to see who gets to pick first! And the best part is the eats! We eat foods which remind us of the miracle of the oil when the Temple was rededicated.
Therefore, we eat “oily” foods-favorites for this holiday is latkes - grated potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream, and of course, jelly donuts! Hanukkah parties are a great way to celebrate the holiday and share the significance with friends and family. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy!
Chag Urim Sameach!
Joyous Festival of Lights
The LORD is good, and He has given us light … (Psalm 118:27)