Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. It is an eight-day long celebration of miracles and religious freedom, but in the pantheon of Jewish holidays, Hanukkah simply doesn’t hold a candle (pun intended) to Yom Kippur or Passover.
Ubiquitous twinkly lights and wreaths can create the impression that everyone (else) is celebrating Christmas. Many American Jewish parents are sensitive to their children feeling excluded from December’s celebratory mood. Christians are kindly inclusive, though, so in the United States, Hanukkah is annually elevated to rock-star status.
’Tis the season of lights, parties, and holiday music — but most new music is Christmas-themed. And how many times can anyone listen to the musically unadventurous preschool classic “I Have a Little Dreidl”?
One upside of Hanukkah’s promotion to major holiday status is that each year typically brings a new musical harvest. So, if you’re ready for some new tunes, here are some to add to the rotation. Whether you’re teaching your kids about Hanukkah or putting together a playlist for an upcoming holiday party, these songs reflect different musical styles and capture various aspects of the Festival of Lights.
1. Hanukkah Goes Pop (Culture)
Adam Sandler recently released his fourth installment of “The Chanukah Song.” This song perfectly captures the playful nature of many contemporary Hanukkah celebrations.
While the song has become a holiday season staple, it’s hard to overstate how electric it felt when I heard the original two decades ago. A huge part of the excitement was Sandler name-checking famous Jews, whom Jewish kids like me envisioned lighting candles along with us, and that was pretty cool.
If you like the new version, it’s definitely worth revisiting the franchise-launching original, which thrilled by making Hanukkah feel (pop) culturally relevant.
2. A Capella with the Maccabeats
The Maccabeats, an a cappella group founded at Yeshiva University (think BYU with a Jewish twist), release Jewish-themed music year-round. However, their Hanukkah videos have attracted special attention the last several years. They released a whole Hanukkah album last month entitled “A Maccabeats Hanukkah,” which includes catchy arrangements of Hanukkah standards.
This year’s featured Hanukkah video, “Latke Recipe,” matches the melody of “Shut Up and Dance” with an explanation of how to make latkes, or traditional potato pancakes, for Hanukkah dinner. Given how central food is to Jewish holiday observance, it’s certainly a subject worthy of song.
For a more complete telling of the Hanukkah story, check out the Maccabeats’ “Dynamite”-inspired song “Candlelight” from 2010.
3. Singer-Songwriter Julie Geller
Denver-based singer-songwriter Julie Geller regularly releases uplifting music in both English and Hebrew. The mother of three — who has become a friend since my preschooler fell in love with her music — has a knack for writing tunes you keep humming, as well as thought-provoking lyrics that simultaneously appeal to kids and adults.
This year’s hopeful Hanukkah song, “The Spark,” focuses on the contrast of light and darkness, which can be understood both literally and figuratively. When daily news reports portray such a bleak view of the world, Julie’s music is a welcome respite.
For a Geller classic, check out Julie’s 2013 Hanukkah release. “I Believe in Miracles” might make you cry. At the very least, it’s likely to have you singing along that you too believe in miracles.
To round out the list, here are a few other songs that aren’t new but are also worth a listen.
Matisyahu mixes a Reggae sensibility with Jewish religious themes in his music. His Hanukkah song “Miracle” celebrates miracles, light, and freedom to a Reggae beat.
5. Urban Hipster
The LeeVees play some witty culturally Jewish songs on their 2005 album “Hanukkah Rocks.” I especially recommend “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream” and “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” which will get you pondering the Seinfeldian controversies surrounding the holiday.
6. Kids’ Music
When it comes to Jewish kids’ holiday music, you can’t go wrong with ShirLaLa. Her melodies inspire dancing, and she has some very clever lyrics. Our family particularly likes the up-tempo “Lots of Latkes.”
Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating! May your Festival of Lights be filled not only with light, but also with memorably melodious music.