What Is Gelt?

If there’s one thing I agree with Adam Sandler on, it’s that there aren’t enough Hanukkah songs. Christmas, on the other hand, has a bajillion and three (at least). There are literally so many Christmas songs that you could play a Christmas playlist for hours without any repeats.

What I’m getting at is, A.) we need more Hanukkah songs, and, B.) because there are so few, you’ve probably heard them all. Does “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” ring a bell? I assume you’ve probably heard this enchanting little ditty at one point or another—but have you ever actually played a game of dreidel and won some gelt in the process? Whether you have or you’re not entirely sure what those things are, here’s a lil explainer for ya. And who knows, if a great miracle occurs maybe this article will go on for eight days and nights (though I hope not for my editor’s sake)!

Okay, rewind a sec…what is Hanukkah again? 

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday. In fact, it’s probably the most well-known Jewish holiday to non-Jewish people due to its proximity to Christmas. But it may surprise you to know that Chanukah, A.) has nothing to do with Christmas, B.) has nothing to do with gifts (at least historically speaking), and C.) really isn’t that important of a Jewish holiday in the scheme of things. The gist of Hanukah is that the Jews had just achieved a military victory and were coming back to rededicate their temple to Judaism after it had been occupied by Greece, who dedicated it to Zeus. The Jews relit the eternal light/flame (one of which hangs in every synagogue to this day) in the temple with the single jar of oil that they could find, which is typically only enough for one night. However, because a miracle was afoot, that one jar lasted eight nights. That’s what Hanukkah is about, really. You light candles, add one each night for eight nights, say prayers, eat greasy foods like latkes and jelly donuts (sufganiyot), and play dreidel. The gifts were only added later because Jewish kids were feeling left out of the whole holiday gifting thing.

Okay I get it…but what’s dreidel?

Dreidel is a game in which you spin a top with four sides; each side of the top has a letter from the Hebrew alphabet that spells out an acronym for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” meaning “a great miracle happened there” (unless you buy a dreidel in Israel, in which case it says “a great miracle happened here”). Typically, this game is played with chocolate coins called gelt, but other things can be used, too (money, your brother’s two-month-old Halloween candy, etc.). Every person starts with some gelt and places one coin in the middle to start “the pot.” Then you take turns spinning, and depending how the dreidel lands, you either do nothing (N), add one to the pot (SH), take half the pot (H), or take the whole pot (G). And that’s it! Now you can give it a spin…er…so to speak.

Okay, okay, but what is gelt!? This article really is going on for eight days and nights, sheesh.

“Gelt” is a Yiddish/Hebrew word that means gold or money. The German version of the word is pronounced the same but spelled “geld” (thanks, one year of college German). It is made of chocolate and is wrapped in gold or silver foil that’s been embossed with raised images (little menorahs, often) to make it really and truly look like coins. Usually, the chocolate gelt is made with is kind of cheap and junky and tastes more like sweet wax than anything else, but there are some good gelt options out there. I recommend See’s for a “tastes like chocolate and not wax, but won’t break the bank” happy medium. But if you really want to get fancy the next time you bust out the dreidel, Bon Appetit recommends these super bougie spots to get good gelt. So go get it, girlfriend! And by “it” I mean some gelt and a dreidel. You don’t have to be Jewish to play it; you just have to like playing games and eating chocolate. If that’s not you, I can’t relate!

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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  • Nobody asked. And they always do that, its so lame. It’s like it’s genetic!