From traditional tunes to offbeat comedy numbers, we wanted to share this list published on udiscovermusic.com with great songs that will light up all eight nights of your celebrations.
— December 10th, 2020
Every December we’re faced with countless songs about Christmas, from new to traditional tunes performed by the most popular artists. Nonetheless, for those who celebrate Hanukkah, it seems like the options are sorely lacking.
But that is about to change! Below 25 Hanukkah songs to include in your playlist this holiday season:
Klezmer Conservatory Band: Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah!
The Yiddish “Oy Chanukah, Oy Channukah!” is a traditional holiday song that chronicles all the fun and delicious activities that take place during the eight nights of Hanukkah, including making latkes, spinning the dreidel, dancing the hora and, of course, lighting the candles of the menorah. Though the English version of the song (“Oh Hanukkah”) is heard most frequently these days (see No.3), this is a classic rendition in Yiddish by Boston’s renowned Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Don McClean: Dreidel
No, this 1973 single from the “American Pie” singer-songwriter isn’t a Hanukkah song, per se – but it is one of the few charting pop tracks that references the seasonal spinning top. “Dreidel,” from McClean’s self-titled third album, is a poignant tune about the rollercoaster of life. Over the years, there has been speculation about where McClean got the inspiration for the lyrics, though word has it that the artist spent some time living on an Israeli kibbutz. Whatever McClean’s connection might be, this early 70s folk-pop gem is a thought-provoking addition to the best Hanukkah songs out there.
Buzzy Lee: Give You Everything
Most Christmas songs often center around themes of love, yet few Hanukkah songs deliver the same sentiments. All of that changed with this 2019 synth-pop tune from Buzzy Lee, aka Sasha Spielberg. In this sweet track, the actress and songwriter professes her love to a significant other, promising gifts of apple sauce and diamond rings.
Barenaked Ladies: Hanukkah Blessings
The Canadian rockers, who brought us tongue-in-cheek hits like “One Week,” “If I Had $1000000’ and “It’s All Been Done,” eschew their signature humor in this sincere ode to the Festival Of Lights. Inspired by his children, frontman Steven Page set out to write a Hanukkah song that reflected the true meaning of the holiday. The track features top-notch vocal harmonies, a catchy acoustic melody, and a recitation of the Hebrew blessing for the menorah candles, to boot.
Béla Fleck & The Flecktones: The Hanukkah Waltz
Progressive banjoist Béla Fleck and his band present this original composition, which feels both traditional and modern at the same time. Treading the stylistic line between bluegrass, jazz, and klezmer music, the instrumental piece is a highlight on The Flecktones’ Grammy Award-winning holiday album, Jingle All The Way. As a special treat, guest musician Andy Statman shines with a hypnotic clarinet performance, making for one of the best Hanukkah songs.
Woody Guthrie: Hanukkah Dance
Inspired by his wife’s Jewish heritage, folk legend Woody Guthrie penned a handful of Hanukkah songs in the fall of 1949. Likely written to perform for children at Jewish community centers, the majority of these compositions were never recorded, and some were never even set to music. “Hanukkah Dance,” however, is a rare exception. The rest of the songs were set to music a half a century later, at the behest of Guthrie’s daughter Nora, by modern klezmer band The Klezmatics.
The Living Sisters: Hanukkah
This charming tune from indie-folk supergroup The Living Sisters offers just the right amount of mid-century holiday kitsch. Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond), Eleni Mandell, Alex Lilly, and Inara George (The Bird And The Bee) sing impressive four-part harmonies as they marvel at the endurance of a tenuous relationship. It’s a Hanukkah miracle!
Alex Frankel: Hanukkah In ’96
Alex Frankel of Holy Ghost! gets reflective on his synth-pop track “Hanukkah In ’96.” Wishing that “the holidays were shorter,” Frankel’s seemingly autobiographical tune recalls bittersweet adolescent memories. Fun fact: aside from being one half of Holy Ghost!, Alex (along with his brother, Zach) is also the proud owner of Frankel’s Delicatessen in Brooklyn, making him the creator of both one of the best Hanukkah songs and some of the best pastrami sandwiches.
The LeeVees: How Do You Spell Channukkahh?’
This hilarious indie-rock ditty boldly attempts to answer the age-old question: just how do you spell “Hanukkah”? The LeeVees, formed by Guster’s Adam Gardner and Dave Schneider (of the hockey-obsessed band The Zambonis), is a novelty project that only performs songs about the Festival Of Lights. The track, on their aptly titled album Hanukkah Rocks, also boasts a delightful DIY animated video. After listening, you may not have any more clarity on the holiday’s correct spelling, but you will have one of the best Hanukkah songs in your head.
Haim: If It Be Your Will
Tapped by renowned music supervisor Randall Poster to contribute a track for his 2019 compilation, Hanukkah+ , Haim chose to record a captivating cover of Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will.” Sisters Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim bring a solemn beauty to the song, which Cohen originally released in 1984. The songwriter was said to have been inspired by an old prayer about surrendering to a higher power.
In 2010, the “King Without A Crown” rapper released this infectious ode to Hanukkah, along with a cinematic music video. Entitled Matisyahu’s Miracle On Ice, the allegorical short film chronicles a dream-induced series of wintry adventures for the artist, in which he escapes imprisonment by a nutcracker and faces off with a Greek god on the hockey rink, among other hijinks. In the end, all parties dance together on the ice in a true holiday miracle. This upbeat single, along with Matisyahu’s 2012 follow-up, “Happy Hanukkah,” more than earns its place among the best Hanukkah songs for any holiday playlist.
Loudon Wainwright III: Eight Nights A Week
Many of the best-loved Christmas songs (“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire),” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ were written by Jewish artists: Irving Berlin, Mel Tormé and Robert Wells, and Sammy Kahn and Jule Styne, respectively. As a gentile, the elder Wainwright turns the tables on this formula. His honky-tonk tribute to the Festival Of Lights brings a delightful touch of satire to the best Hanukkah songs.
Yo La Tengo: Eight Candles
Since 2001, Yo La Tengo have performed highly-anticipated, (nearly) annual shows for all eight nights of Hanukkah in their native Hoboken, New Jersey, and, more recently, at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, so it’s no surprise that the group wrote a delectable song in tribute to the holiday. “Eight Candles” harkens back to mid-century surf rock with its dreamy, reverb-soaked melody. It’s the perfect accompaniment to warm latkes and an illuminated menorah on a cold winter’s night.
The Flaming Lips: Sing It Now, Sing It Somehow
This original track from the Grammy Award-winning psych-rock band is one of the many stellar Hanukkah songs on the Hanukkah+ compilation. Full of haunting bells and expansive strings, this gorgeous song reminds us of the larger spirit of the holiday season, asking, “What is a life if it’s lived without love?”
Sufjan Stevens: Maoz Tzur (Rock Of Ages)
“Ma’oz Tzur” (roughly translating to “rock of ages”) is an ancient hymn (or piyyut) traditionally sung at Hanukkah. Composed in the 13th Century, the joyous song recounts key moments in history when the Jews overcame challenges, thanks to divine intervention. Though this instrumental version is only a short interlude on Sufjan Stevens’ holiday album, Silver & Gold, it offers beauty in its simplicity.