Hanukkah

There are several songs to help your family celebrate Hanukkah
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10 Hanukkah Songs The Whole Mishpucha Can Sing Around The Menorah

From traditional tunes to pop culture spoofs, we have songs that you can enjoy for all eight nights!

For observant Jewish families in America, the last week of November is going to be booked. Thanksgiving is Thursday, Nov. 25, then there’s shabbat from Friday night to Saturday night (as usual), and then on Sunday, Nov. 28, it’s the first night of Hanukkah, ushering in eight nights of candle lighting, gifts, delicious fried foods (give me all the latkes and jelly donuts you have!), games, and song. If you want to keep up the music after the traditional blessings, we have 10 Hanukkah songs the whole family can enjoy.

Now we love the classics: “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” “Mi Yi'malel,” but we wanted to go beyond classics (without excluding them, of course: is it even Hanukkah without the dreidel song?!). So we’ve put together a list of funny, meaningful, snappy, and soulful tunes to celebrate the festival of lights that represented different cultural traditions, languages, and musical styles, from klezmer to rap, disco to folk, and Latin to pop. Because you have enough to get ready for in the coming weeks, we figured we could help take this off your plate which, of course, means more room for latkes! (We don’t care how much turkey you ate a couple days before: there’s always room for latkes!)

“Ocho Kandelikas”

The title of this 1983 song by Flory Jagoda means “Eight Little Candles,” and it’s about a child delightedly lighting the menorah. Set to an Argentine tango rhythm, the lyrics are in Ladino, an old form of Spanish spoken by Sephardic Jews (though, sadly, less and less over time) and it is a bop. This version by Pink Martini and NPR’s Ari Shapiro is particularly fun, but other versions have been recorded by Idina Menzel, Erran Baron Cohen (Sacha Barron Cohen’s older brother) with Yasmin Levy, and others. It’s the perfect song for families with little kids who enjoy a good counting song, Latin music lovers, Sephardic families, and those who want to do just a little bit to keep this severely endangered language alive.

“Candlelight”

Hanukkah songs that spoof pop songs have become a standard part of the holiday, and it started with these dudes: the Maccabeats (another pun! Get it?! Like Maccabees?). This a cappella group from New York’s Yeshiva University has been together since 2007, but went viral in 2010 with this Hanukkah themed spin on Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”

Since then, they’ve put out a Hanukkah song every year, including "All About That Neis," "Latke Recipe," and a parody of Hamilton called "Hasmonean: A Hamilton Hanukkah." You should enjoy all of these songs around the menorah this year (bonus for families with kids: many of them tell the story of the holiday in an easy-to-follow, digestible way), but since this is a holiday all about honoring the past and tradition, we think it's best to start with the original...

“Chanike, Oy Chanike”

Even someone casually aware of the Festival of Lights may be familiar with this tune (often called “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah”). There are countless versions of this classic, including one by the cast of Glee, and the lyrics go like this:

Oh Hanukkah, Oh, Hanukkah/ Come light the menorah/ Come to our party/ We'll all dance the hora/ Gather 'round the table/ We'll give you a treat: dreidels to play with and latkes to eat/ And while we are playing the candles are burning low/ One for each night, they shed a sweet light to remind us of days long ago. {Last line repeats}

But we picked this wordless version by Sruli and Lisa because we thought using a familiar tune like this would be a great way it’s such a great way to introduce kids to klezmer, a genre of Eastern European Jewish folk music.

“Chanukah Fever”

Doni Zasloff Thomas is the lead singer of the Mama Doni Band, which makes music for kids that celebrates Jewish heritage with a mix of styles from reggae, rock, folk, country, klezmer and something they call "Jewgrass.” (Get it? Jewish Bluegrass?) They have an entire album dedicated to Hanukkah! On this titular track, Hanukkah is celebrated via disco! It’s a perfect way to get little ones jazzed about the holiday (though the presents and jelly donuts are also doing some heavy lifting there, too). “Mama Doni” has said that while she wants to make music that connects Jewish children to their heritage and identity, she also wants it to be a way to share Jewish culture with families who aren’t Jewish as well.

“The Chanukah Song”

It would be irresponsible to make a list of Hanukkah songs and not include Adam Sandler’s silly classic that lists “people who are Jewish – just like you and me.” Now, while a lot of the celebrities mentioned in this hit are going to be unfamiliar to young kids (or even their Millennial parents in some cases), it’s still fun. And also, there are lesser known updates! Part 2, Part 3, and even Part 4 continue the tradition of silly voices and saying "Oh! I didn't know they were Jewish!" and your one friend going "Oh yeah! They talked about it in this interview and also my friends friend went to summer camp with her!"

“Hanukkah Blessings”

The Barenaked Ladies holiday album is part of a long and beloved tradition of Jewish singers with Christmas albums (think Barbara Streisand, Carole King, Kenny G, Idina Menzel). Lead singer Steven Page wanted to be sure to represent his heritage on Barenaked for the Holidays and so, in addition to including “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” and “The Dreidel Song,” he wrote “Hanukkah Blessings.”

“The song I wanted to sing was about someone who celebrates Hanukkah in a society where everyone else celebrates Christmas,” Page said in a 2005 interview. “You can feel isolated from mainstream culture. It’s difficult to remember that we have our own culture, religion, and celebration. It’s easy to just go home and light the candles and forget about the rest. But my kids have re-taught me that lesson, to remember Hanukkah and what it’s about.”

“Light One Candle”

Whomst among us doesn’t like the traditional folk-stylings of Peter, Paul and Mary, a band synonymous with modern American folk music itself. The lyrics commemorate the Maccabees fight for liberation from tyranny, but was written by Peter Yarrow as a pacifist response to the Lebanon War in 1982. The lyrics are meaningful and the tune, as you might expect, somber but beautiful. The chorus brings to mind Dylan Thomas’ “Do No Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

Don't let the light go out!/ It's lasted for so many years!/ Don't let the light go out!/ Let it shine through our hope and our tears.

“Observant Jew”

While Joshua Nelson’s soulful “Observant Jew” is not expressly a Hanukkah song, more people need to know about the “prince of kosher gospel” and this is as good a song as any! Melding American gospel music tradition with his own Jewish heritage, Nelson’s powerful voice, incredible talent and reverence for music and the Jewish faith are an amazing way to celebrate Hanukkah. (Paired with a latke? Perfection.) He also stands as an important example of Black representation within the Jewish community, both for Black Jewish kids and for all Jewish kids to see that their religious heritage spans cultures, continents, and races.

“Miracle”

This is a rare song that is cheeky, sweet, and absolutely slaps. Mixing reggae, rap, and pop (kind of Matisyahu’s thing), “Miracle” is an ode to the holiday that reminds celebrants that “these rites keep me right/ Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle.”

The video is also funny, and is definitely worth watching. In it, Matisyahu (sometimes dancing around in a Santa suit) finds himself in the company of Hanukkah villain Antiochus, who tempts him with a party and “chocolate stuff” (“I love chocolate stuff!”) before the noble Hanukkah hero and warrior, Matisyahu (“I’m also Matisyahu!”) reminds him that Antiochus is the enemy. Then they all face off in a hockey match. Naturally.

“Happy Joyous Hanukkah”

The song was originally written by none other than Woody Guthrie. While not Jewish himself, his wife was, and he wrote this song with her and their children (including fellow folk singer Arlo Guthrie) and the Jewish community in mind. (Honestly, it’s kind of a fun juxtaposition to the fact that so many Christmas songs were written by Jews!)

This version by The Klezmatics captures the joyful spirit of the holiday. Not only is really fun and easy to sing along with (kids will enjoy the counting up and down aspect), but draws on American folk traditions as well as klezmer.