Image of jewish holiday Hanukkah with wooden dreidels

What Do the Letters On the Dreidel Stand For?

The four-sided top has slightly different markings depending on where in the world it was made.

Dreidel is a classic Hanukkah game played with a four-sided spinning top. Players place a game piece into the pot at the beginning of each round and then take turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on which side it lands on, players either take or put pieces into the pot. 

But what do the letters stand for?

Well, that depends where you live. 

In most of the world, dreidels have four Hebrew letters — nun, gimmel, hay, and shin — that stand for the phrase: Nes gadol haya sham (“a great miracle happened there”). That refers, of course, to the miracle of the holiday, in which a small amount of oil sufficient to light the Temple menorah for one day wound up burning for eight. 

But in Israel, where the Hanukkah miracle actually occurred, the dreidels are a little different, with four letters — nun, gimmel, hay and pay — corresponding to a slightly different phrase:  Nes gadol haya poh (“a great miracle happened here”).

Want to learn how to play dreidel? This video has you covered:

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