When the holiday season rolls around you can count on a few tried and true traditions: Spending time with family and friends, over shopping (and over eating), and holiday songs — lots and lots of holiday songs. But, while there is a seemingly endless supply of Christmas songs, the options are far less numerous for those who celebrate Hanukkah.
Little by little things have started to change, and today you can catch the occasional Hanukkah song mixed in with the playlist of Christmas songs heard on the radio. So before you pursue those Hanukkah home decoration ideas, or tackle that Hanukkah gift guide, or listen to Bubbie’s beloved Hanukkah stories, let’s celebrate the “Festival of Lights” with our top seven picks for Hanukkah songs, from traditional to lighthearted!
When it comes to modern-day Hanukkah songs, none comes close to the popularity of comedian Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song.” First introduced on “Saturday Night Live” in 1994, the song became an instant holiday classic. Sandler’s goal in penning the song was simple: He wanted to help Jewish kids avoid feeling left out during the holidays, when everything around them is all about Christmas.
The song includes a list of celebrities who also celebrate the “eight crazy nights” of the holiday, from David Lee Roth to Dear Abby, Captain Kirk to Mr. Spock. The song was such a monumental hit, Sandler actually updates it every few years with more current cultural references, although the original remains the most popular. In terms of air time on radio stations across the nation, no Hanukkah song even comes close to this modern-day classic.
Kenny Ellis brings the sound of the Big Band Era to the holiday with this decidedly unique take on Hanukkah. Get ready to kick up your heels and dance the night away — or is that dance eight nights away?
Folk icon Woody Guthrie was inspired to pen an assortment of Hanukkah songs in 1949 as a tribute to his wife’s Jewish heritage. Although most of his Hanukkah compositions were not even set to music, “Hanukkah Dance” was luckily one of the few that was recorded. Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, eventually worked with the modern klezmer band, The Klezmatics, to set music to the rest of the songs, thereby ensuring her father’s compositions could be enjoyed by future generations.
An English version of this classic song (“Oh Hanukkah”) may be more commonly heard these days, but those yearning for a truly traditional holiday take love the Yiddish “Oy Chanukah, Oy Channukah!” performed by Boston’s renowned Klezmer Conservatory Band. The song chronicles what Hanukkah is all about: Lighting the candles of the menorah, spinning the dreidel, dancing the hora, and even making latkes.
Speaking of latkes … Debbie Friedman brings all the fun of the holiday to a young generation in a song that poses the question: What would the latkes have to say about their role in Hanukkah? Friedman even manages to add a message of social justice into this lighthearted and funny holiday tune.
The lyrics of this song, written by Peter Yarrow and performed by the group Peter, Paul, and Mary, commemorate the war of national liberation between the Maccabees and the Greek empire from 140 to 63 BCE. The war is described in the Books of the Maccabees and is commemorated during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. First performed by the iconic folk trio during a holiday performance at Carnegie Hall in 1982, it has since become one of the most popular Hanukkah songs.
No list of Hanukkah songs would be complete without this timeless classic. It has become so incredibly popular that it’s been covered by countless singers and bands and even has several different title aliases: “I Have A Little Dreidel,” “The Dreidel Song,” and “Dreidel Dreidel, Dreidel.” Written in 1927, in both Yiddish and English, this children’s song is arguably the best-known Hanukkah song around the world.
There are so many versions of this song to choose from, by so many different artists, but we like Don Cooper’s 2012 version — a kid-friendly take on the song, which includes a brief intro that tells a bit about the details of the dreidel game.
We hope our list has put you in the singing mood and maybe even introduced you to a Hanukkah song or two you hadn’t heard before.