Eight Hanukkah Songs for Eight Nights
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated as a commemoration of the cleansing of Jerusalem's Holy Temple during the Maccabean Revolt during the 2nd century BCE. This holiday is observed each year for eight days starting on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar (ranging from late November to late December in the Gregorian Calendar.)
Jewish families celebrate by lighting menorahs, candelabra that hold nine candles (one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah and one for the "helper" candle that is used to light the other candles). The following are songs you may hear during the holiday.
1. The Hanukkah Blessings
When lighting the Hanukkah candles, blessings are chanted or sung. The following blessing is probably the most recognizable as it is the same blessing used on Shabbat (except the word Hanukkah is changed to Shabbat.)
בָּרוּךְ אַתָה יי אֶלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הַעוֹלָם אֲשֶר קִדְשָנוּ בֵּמִצְווֹתַיו וְצִיוַונוּ לֵהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶל חֲנוּכָּה׃
In Hebrew, you would read this prayer from right to left. This blessing is pronounced "Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel hanukkah."
2. "Ma'oz Tzur"
After the lighting of the candles, the Jewish hymn Ma'oz Tzur is sung. The title of this song roughly translates to Stronghold of Rock, but there is actually an English version of the song called "Rock of Ages."
This song dates back to the 13th century and speaks of times when Jews have been saved: the exodus, Babylonian captivity, Purim, and the Hasmonean victory (which is the origin of Hanukkah.)
3. "Light One Candle"
"Light One Candle" is technically not about Hanukkah, but was first sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary during a Christmas/Hanukkah concert in 1982. This song has since become a symbol of peace in Israel (and around the world) and is sometimes played at synagogues around Hanukkah.
The first line, "Light one candle for the Maccabee children" is a reference to the Maccabees who rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem.
4. "Candlelight" by The Maccabeats
The Maccabeats, an all-male acapella group from Yeshiva University, wrote and performed "Candlelight", a spin-off the Taio Cruz song, "Dynamite." This song, released in 2010, achieved viral status with over 5.9 million hits on YouTube.
The song features the origins of Hanukkah and makes references to playing dreidel and frying latkes.
5. "Oh Chanukah"
Oh Chanukah, or, in Yiddish, Oy Chanukah, is a popular children's song about lighting the menorah, dancing the Hora, and eating latkes which are potato pancakes. This song does have a Hebrew version, but the words and meaning are entirely different and is not as popular as the Yiddish and English versions.
6. "I Have a Little Dreidel"
"I Have a Little Dreidel" or, in Yiddish, Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl, was one of my favorite Hanukkah songs as a kid. This children's song is also one of the most popular Hanukkah songs in the English-speaking world.
The song is named for the dreidel, a wooden top with four flat sides used for a children's game.
7. Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song"
I wouldn't call this song kosher for Hanukkah, but it is an absolutely hilarious (and fun) song. In this song, comedian Adam Sandler explains that Jewish kids shouldn't feel lonely as they celebrate Hanukkah and not Christmas. He lists famous people who are also Jewish and thus, celebrate Hanukkah.
This song became wildly popular, so Sandler later created more parts to the song, but the original version is arguably the most well-loved of his Hanukkah songs and is perhaps the most popular Hanukkah song in the secular world.
While "Oh Chanukah" is one of the more popular songs outside of Israel, "Sevivon" is popular in Israel around Hanukkah. This song, written in Hebrew, doesn't have an official English version, but there are various translations of "Sevivon."
The word sevivon is the Hebrew word for dreidel and the song is about spinning a dreidel and the miracle that happened in Israel (a reference to the miracle of the temple's oil staying lit for eight nights when there was only enough oil for one.)
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© 2011 Melanie Palen