Let’s face it: Hanukkah often plays second fiddle to Christmas during the winter holiday season. Take, for instance, the tiny menorah next to the very large Christmas tree in public displays, or the end-cap assortment of Hanukkah items at Target versus rows upon rows of Christmas things.
My favorite nod to Hanukkah, however, can be found on plenty of modern “holiday” albums: the one token Hanukkah song. Stuck in between yet another remake of “O Holy Night” and “Jingle Bells,” finding the one Hanukkah song on a Christmas album (because yes, these really are just Christmas albums) is like finding the afikomen (pardon my mixed holiday metaphor). I’m obsessed with these one-offs, so I decided to find as many as possible and rank them.
In my research, I found many Jewish celebrities who have recorded Christmas albums without including a single Hanukkah song, which I am personally offended by. For example, Barbra Streisand has released four (4!!!) Christmas albums, and yet to cover a Hanukkah tune?! A shanda. But I’m not here to complain. I’m here to celebrate.
As a disclaimer: The only Hanukkah song I truly know is “I Have a Little Dreidel,” and I am not including any albums full of Hanukkah songs (like Rachel Bloom’s very, very good Suck It, Christmas!!! or the genuinely amazing Hanukkah+) or one-off Hanukkah singles (like Daveed Diggs’ “Puppy for Hanukkah” or Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song,” both of which are masterpieces). To make it on this list, it had to be (1) a Hanukkah song and (2) on a Christmas album.
With that out of the way, let’s go:
1. “Ocho Kandelikas” by Idina Menzel
from Christmas: A Season of Love
This is the ultimate Ladino Hanukkah song, and Idina Menzel’s cover is absolutely fire. She called “Ocho Kandelikas,” a song written by Sephardi music superstar Flory Jagoda, “a sexy Hanukkah song!!!” Where is the lie?
Menzel, a Jewish actress and singer-songwriter, has two Christmas albums. On her first, there were no Hanukkah songs, but she more than made up for it with this one. Also on Christmas: A Season of Love is a track of her 3-year-old son, Walker, singing the Hanukkah blessings. (It’s called “Walker’s 3rd Hanukkah,” and it’s adorable.) However, it’s not exactly a song, more like an interlude, so “Ocho Kandelikas” is still the token Hanukkah song on her Christmas album.
As Menzel said in the past, “I know I’m Jewish. But a lot of famous Jewish people have written Christmas songs, so I’m going to try out some of their songs on the album. I’m glad I’m not singing about Jesus.”
2. “Ma’oz Tzur” (feat. Nicolette Robinson) by Leslie Odom, Jr.
from The Christmas Album
A very, very close second is Leslie Odom, Jr.’s duet with his wife, Nicolette Robinson, covering the Hanukkah classic “Ma’oz Tzur.” Robinson, a Black Jewish actress and singer, is the perfect compliment to her Hamilton star husband.
“My parents were always great at empowering me to be proud of who I am,” Nicolette said. “We celebrated Christian and Jewish holidays, and I got an understanding of both sides of my background. I feel really grateful for that.” And we are so grateful for this Ma’oz Tzur cover!!
Watch them perform the song together here.(Go here to learn all about Nicolette Robinson here.)
3. “8 Days (Of Hanukkah)” by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
from It’s a Holiday Soul Party
While the first two songs on this list were covers, this is an original song and — pardon my language! — it is a motherfucking delight. “8 Days (Of Hanukkah),” released in 2015, is destined to be a modern classic. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings were an American funk and soul band, but sadly, Sharon passed away in 2016 at age 60 after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer and pancreatic cancer. May this joyous song be part of her amazing legacy.
Plus, there’s an animated lyric video that will fill the Schoolhouse Rock-shaped hole in your heart:
Also can I just point out the specificity of the lyrics!? “We’re cooking up the brisket the kosher butcher sold my Uncle Saul”! The eight-day structure! The joy! The soul!
Check out the band performing the tune at an NPR Tiny Desk concert:
So much love.
4. “Can I Interest You In Hannukah?” by Stephen Colbert & Jon Stewart
from A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All
In 2008, Stephen Colbert starred in a Christmas special on Comedy Central. The plot is simple: He’s stuck in a cabin, there’s a bear outside, and friends stop by the cabin to sing Christmas songs. Luckily for us, one of his friends is Jewish comedian Jon Stewart, who stops by to sing an original Hanukkah song with Stephen.
In a blue puffer jacket, Jon sings:
Can I interest you in Hanukkah?
Maybe something in a Festival of Lights
It’s a sensible alternative to Christmas
And it lasts for seven–for you–eight nights
Just watch, a true delight:
You can rent the special on Amazon Prime video here.
5. “Happy Joyous Hanukkah” by Indigo Girls
from Holly Happy Days
This is a song I genuinely think I would listen to outside of the holiday season. (Not surprising: I listen to the album Hanukkah+ year-round.)
The Indigo Girls, a folk rock duo you probably first heard at summer camp, have voices perfectly suited to this song — maybe because it was originally written by folk legend Woody Guthrie.
While Guthrie wasn’t Jewish, his Jewish lyrics — which were co-written with his Jewish mother-in-law, a Yiddish poet (!!) — were rediscovered by Nora Guthrie, his daughter, and set to music by the band The Klezmatics. In 2007, they released Happy Joyous Hanukkah, songs with lyrics by Guthrie. (It won a Grammy!) Their version of this song sadly did not make the list, as it is on a Hanukkah album, and we are talking Christmas albums here, but we’ll cheat and include it for your joyous listening:
6. “Hanukkah Blessings” by Barenaked Ladies
from Barenaked For The Holidays
(And “I Have a Little Dreidel” and “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” from the same album.)
Okay, technically this is three songs, I know. I said I was writing about the “token Hanukkah song on a Christmas album,” yet here we are, at #6 on the list, with not one, not two, but three Hanukkah songs. Yet, I am grouping them together because (a) this is my article, I make the rules, and (b) two are covers of very well-known, mainstream Hanukkah tunes (unlike songs 1-6 on this list), and (c) I am really only going to talk about the original song, “Hanukkah Blessings,” which I adore.
It’s a sweet tune about the miracle of Hanukkah, plus in the chorus, they sing the actual Hanukkah blessings, which makes me genuinely emotional to listen to?!? Especially since right before the first prayer, they sing:
With the jingle bells and the toys
And the TV shows and the noise
It’s easy to forget
At the end of the day
Our whole family will say
These words for Hanukkah:
I mean! Are you crying yet?! Listen:
For the record, Steven Page, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the Barenaked Ladies, is Jewish.
🌈 ✨The more you know! ✨🌈
7. “Hannukah Snowman” by Phranc
from Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album
The premise of this song is simple: “How come the snowman’s never dressed for Hanukkah? / How come he’s never wearing a yarmulke? / I wanna know / why’s that so?!”
It’s a cutesy addition to this list from influential queer singer-songwriter Phranc.
8. “Feast of Lights” by They Might Be Giants
from They Might Be Giants In… Holidayland
This one’s kinda dark and spooky, but Hanukkah is not, like, a bright and merry holiday, so I actually think this song really gets the vibe of Hanukkah.
Released in 1999, the two (non-Jewish) Johns who make up They Might Be Giants sing, “Please be nice on this Feast of Lights.” (It’s Festival of Lights, but Jews do like to eat so I’ll let this one pass, TMBG.)
Also, they got their lover a harmonica and a bag of chocolate coins for Hanukkah. Power move!
9. “Dreidel” by Don McLean
from Don McLean
This song is not technically on a Christmas album, but it was released in November 1972, which is officially holiday music season, so I’m counting it. (Again: Chaotic rules, I don’t care!!)
McLean is perhaps best known for his song “American Pie,” yet Wikipedia lists “Dreidel” as one of his other hit singles, which is pretty cool for a song named after a Hanukkah game. (McLean is not Jewish, before you exit this tab and google.)
He sings, “I feel like a spinning top or a Dreidel / The spinning don’t stop when you leave the cradle.”
While not technically a Hanukkah song, exactly, it is called “Dreidel,” it is fun, and, in my humble opinion, deserves this #9 spot.
10. “Eternal Light (A Chanukah Song)” and “The Chanukah Song” by Kenny G
from A Holiday Album and Miracles: The Holiday Album
I’m sorry there are two here but they sound exactly the same to me:
Where is the difference?!?! Anyway: soothing saxophone from Kenny G about Hanukkah? We won’t complain.
“The Chanukah Song,” Kenny G explains, “has an old style European flavor to it. The song definitely sounds like Jewish music and I am pleased to have included it in the album.”
Also, did you know Kenny G, AKA Kenny Gorelick, is Jewish?! Did you know he recorded jazz covers of Jewish liturgical prayers in 1984?! Did you know he didn’t want to call this a Christmas album because of his one Hanukkah song!??!
You probably — definitely — didn’t know that last one:
“I told Clive Davis, head of the record company, that I don’t want to call the album a Christmas album because I am Jewish and I also want to do a Hanukkah song,” Kenny G said in 2015. “Clive said ‘I am Jewish too. Please record a Hanukkah song, but give me a holiday album with popular Christmas songs. So I decided to call the album a holiday album.”
11. “The Rockin’ Dreidel Song” by Sha Na Na
from Rockin’ Christmas
This is a “rockin'” cover of the classic dreidel song. Pretty straightforward but fun:
This album was released in 2002, when many of the original members of Sha Na Na had left the group — it’s very enjoyable to scroll through the history of the members of Sha Na Na on Wikipedia. (My favorite fun fact: “Escaped child killer Elmer Edward Solly assumed [lead guitarist Vinnie] Taylor’s identity and performed as him, though not with Sha Na Na, which eventually led to his discovery and capture.” Like, WHAT?!?!?!?! A close second: “Billy Schwartz (1971): guitarist on Canadian tour in 1971 due to Chris Donald’s inability to enter Canada.” Really need the full story there.)
Also, if the vibe sounds like songs from Grease to you, well, Sha Na Na appeared in the 1978 film.
They are also very cool looking:
- American rock and roll group Sha Na Na in Bardney, Lincolnshire, 1972. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Should this be an article about Sha Na Na instead of Hanukkah songs?? Ugh, guess we have to move along…
12. “8 Days (Of Hanukkah)” by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer & Kay Trinidad
If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album
I love Hadestown and I love the women who play the Fates, but you just can’t compete with the original version of this song by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings (see #2, above).
Still, this cover is a delight:
Their voices are so good and the song is so good and combining the two is a good decision.
13. “Hanukkah Medley” by Julia Lester
from High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special
I mean, we can’t resist a good mash-up, and props to Disney+ for including a Hanukkah song in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series‘s holiday special. (The superior 2020 Disney Hanukkah song is obviously “Puppy for Hanukkah,” though.)
The mash-up is performed by Jewish actress Julia Lester, who plays Ashlyn Caswell.
We’re very much here for her sparkly jacket and white turtleneck look. The weird blue plaint splatters in the video we could do without. On Instagram, Julia calls the song “Hanukkah-pop,” and honestly, she’s not wrong!
14. “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” by the Glee cast
from The Christmas Album vol. 3
Can you believe it took Glee three Christmas albums to finally include a Hanukkah song!? Honestly, rude, Glee, you were kind of a Jew-ish show!!
It’s performed by Jake and Puck in the episode “Glee, Actually,” and it’s the Barenaked Ladies arrangement of the song, according to glee.fandom.com. Jewish half-brothers Jake and Noah sing the song, then get Star of David tattoos on their left shoulder, naturally:
Honestly, a fun cover, but nothing special. But yay for Black Jewish representation in the form of Jake Puckerman!
15. “Hanukah Rocks” (feat. The Fish) by Gefilte Joe & The Fish
from Christmas Classics
This may be cheating a little because I think it was released on a Hanukkah album, but I found this song as part of “Christmas Classics Volume Two,” a holiday compilation released in 2008, where it was the only Hanukkah representative. And besides, the band’s name is Gefilte Joe & The Fish. How could I not include them here?!
As the YouTube description says: “1981 Chanukah classic from the world’s only senior-citizen jewish rock band… I don’t know if that’s true anymore, with Bobby Dylan, Rush, and Kiss still touring, but anyways, here is ‘Hanukah Rocks’ burned from my personal vinyl copy for review and commentary only! Baruch Adonai!”
Anyway, there is something so comforting about their voices, in that very elderly Jewish man kind of way. But it’s not the greatest song, hence its placement on this list:
Thank you to this random YouTuber for saving his 1981 vinyl of “Hanukah Rocks.”
16. “Happy Hanukkah” (feat. Scott Helman) by Walk Off the Earth
from Subscribe to the Holidays
Very fun from the Canadian indie pop band, a cover of Matisyahu’s “Happy Hanukkah” original song. But nothing special:
Genuinely, the Matisyahu version is far superior; theirs feels like a weird appropriation even though I know it’s not.
17. “Hanukkah” by Beckah Shae
from Let It Snow
Okay, uh, Beckah Shae is an “American Christian-pop-worship singer-songwriter” so we’re immediately uncomfortable to learn she has a Hanukkah song. And the fact she sings “God of Is-ra-el is on his throne,” it just… it doesn’t feel right.
But here it is:
Beckah seems to be part of a Messianic Christian group that celebrates Jewish holidays as Christians. The group, Founded in Truth, explains “We are a messianic fellowship made up of families devoted to pursuing the mission, purpose, and truth of the gospel of Yeshua (Jesus)… In fact, we don’t even meet on Sundays. At FIT, we love to explore Biblical observances such as The Sabbath, Holy Days, and other customs Yeshua Himself kept. This helps us get an intimate glimpse into the love and peace of who our God is.” Just, a hard no.
In another video, she invites people to “come worship with me” at a Hanukkah event, and then she starts singing about the resurrection of Jesus. Yikes!!!
Do we even need to explain why this is so wrong? “However much Christians may think that they’re getting in touch with their roots by holding seders, or finding common ground with Judaism, functionally, it ends up being cosplaying Jews,” Jessica Price, an Alma contributor, explained in this piece about Christian “Passover seders.” She goes on, “And other people’s cultures aren’t your costume. And it’s even more insulting to take one of the central formal expressions of Jewish peoplehood—that goes far beyond religion—and pervert its symbolism to proclaim the theology of a religion that’s spent most of the last 2000 years trying to make the Jewish people disappear.”
Christian appropriation of Passover seders, and other Jewish holidays and rituals, is a very weird thing that very much exists — so we are very uncomfortable with this Hanukkah song.
Well, we went from great to terrible. That was a fun journey… but I think we need to end with a palette cleanser.
Not last, actually first in my heart, but it doesn’t fit the theme of this article so it has to go down here, is the entire album called Hanukkah+.
It is simply the best album of actual Hanukkah songs. Listen to them, and not just the token Hanukkah tunes on Christmas albums.