Best Hanukkah Songs: 25 Ways To Celebrate The Festival Of Lights
From traditional tunes to offbeat comedy numbers, the 25 best Hanukkah songs will light up all eight nights of your celebrations.
Every December we’re faced with a non-stop barrage of holiday music. Sure, there are plenty of songs about Christmas from today’s biggest stars, but for those who celebrate Hanukkah, the options seem sorely lacking. Adam Sandler made a solid attempt to rectify that in 1994, and, since then, a steady trickle of pop tunes has been added to the canon of Hanukkah music. Though Christmas songs still rule the airwaves, there are some pretty great songs that pay tribute to the Festival Of Lights, and we’ve collected 25 of the finest. From traditional tunes to offbeat comedy numbers, the 25 best Hanukkah songs will light up all eight nights of your celebrations.
Listen to the Hanukkah compilation Hanukkah+ now.
25: 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.
24: 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.
23: 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.
22: 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.
21: 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.
20: 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.
19: 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!
18: 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.
17: Indigo Girls: Happy Joyous Hanukkah
“Happy Joyous Hanukkah” was one of Woody Guthrie’s long-lost Hanukkah compositions, set to music in 2006 by The Klezmatics. A few years later, Indigo Girls recorded their own interpretation of the song, riffing on the klezmer band’s melody. In this acoustic version, the folk duo put a bluegrass spin on the tune, while special guests Janis Ian and Mary Gautier harmonize on backing vocals.
16: 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.
15: 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.
14: Matisyahu: Miracle
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.
13: 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.
12: 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.
11: 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?”
10: 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.
9: Adam Green: Dreidels Of Fire
In his original song “Dreidels Of Fire,” antifolk hero Adam Green questions the finer points of the Hanukkah story: just how did one night’s worth of oil stretch for eight whole nights? Later, Green laments his loved one taking all his money in a contentious game of dreidel. Lush string arrangements, plus a healthy dose of absurdity, make this track one of the best modern Hanukkah songs out there.
8: Watkins Family Hour: Hanukkah Dance
Siblings Sara and Sean Watkins breathe new life into this Woody Guthrie rarity (hear the original version earlier on this list, at No.20). Working with acclaimed producer Mike Viola (Fall Out Boy, Jenny Lewis, Andrew McMahon), the leaders of the Los Angeles bluegrass collective recorded a spry, instrumental cover, which feels perfectly festive.
7: Tom Lehrer: (I’m Spending) Hanukkah In Santa Monica
Musical satirist Tom Lehrer wrote this song about escaping the cold weather of the Northeast for warmer climates during Hanukkah (among other Jewish holidays). Lehrer debuted the novelty tune in 1990 on Garrison Keillor’s The American Radio Company show. Since then, the song has become standard fare, performed by everyone from Michael Feinstein at his famed holiday cabaret shows, to Gay Men’s Chorus Of Los Angeles.
6: The Maccabeats: Candlelight
When 14 Orthodox Jewish students at New York’s Yeshiva University formed an a cappella group, they had no idea where their creativity would take them. In 2010, the all-male ensemble released a video for their song “Candlelight,” which sets the tale of Hanukkah to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” Though the Maccabeats only intended to reach their fellow students with the parody video, the track went viral, peaking at No.1 on Billboard’s Digital Comedy Tracks, and earning the group an invitation to perform at the White House for President Obama. Currently, the song boasts nearly 15 million views, while the group has gone on to have a successful career, performing around the world and releasing several albums.
5: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: 8 Days (Of Hanukkah)
The late, great Sharon Jones could do no wrong, and her soulful ode to Hanukkah, recorded with The Dap-Kings, is no exception. The funky track covers all the basics of the holiday, from spinning the dreidel to buying brisket from the kosher butcher. It also includes a helpful reminder to light the menorah from right to left. As a special bonus, kids (and grown-ups) will love the group’s Schoolhouse Rock!-style lyric video.
4: Peter, Paul & Mary: Light One Candle
The iconic folk trio’s Peter Yarrow initially wrote this stirring song in support of Israel’s pacifist movement during the 1982 Lebanon War. The lyrics, however, reference the ancient Maccabees’ fight for freedom, as commemorated by Hanukkah. The group premiered the tune during a holiday performance in the early 80s and, since then, it’s risen through the ranks of the best Hanukkah songs.
3: Jack Black: Oh Hanukkah
Jack Black puts his own unique spin on this traditional Hanukkah song (see No.25 for the classic, Yiddish version), and the result is epic. The Kung-Fu Panda and School Of Rock actor’s upbeat, a cappella recording features multi-tracked vocal harmonies that are worthy of a Queen song. Could we expect anything less from the Tenacious D singer?
2: Erran Baron Cohen (featuring Jules Brookes and Y-Love): Dreidel
Though it goes under multiple aliases (“I Have A Little Dreidel,” “The Dreidel Song,” or “Dreidel Dreidel, Dreidel”), this classic children’s song – written in the late 20s in both English and Yiddish – is perhaps the best-known Hanukkah song around the world. In this version, composer and multi-instrumentalist Erran Baron Cohen (brother of Sacha) offers a fresh, modern take on the song, and even enlists hip-hop artist Y-Love for a rap interlude. Irresistibly catchy, the track will have you throwing down for a game of dreidel in no time.
1: Adam Sandler: The Chanukah Song
When actor and comedian Adam Sandler unveiled his ode to Hanukkah on Saturday Night Live in 1994, he was introducing the world to a new holiday classic. In an effort to help Jewish kids feel a little less alienated during the holidays, when Christmas is everywhere, Sandler wanted to remind them that they were in great company, celebrating “eight crazy nights” along with folks like David Lee Roth, Spock (aka Leonard Nimoy), Goldie Hawn, The Fonze himself (Henry Winkler) and, of course, Tom Cruise’s agent. The song was released on Sandler’s 1995 comedy album, What The Hell Happened to Me?, and was updated every few years to keep up with timely cultural references. However, this original version remains the most popular one. It’s easily the best Hanukkah song in pop culture history.
Peter and Ellen Allard – Judah Maccabee, The Hammer
Michelle Citrin – Pass the Candle (From Left to Right)
Kenny Ellis – Sevivon Sov Sov Sov
The Jimmies – I Want a Hippopotamus for Hanukkah
Shira Kline – Chanukah Bamba
Six13 – Chanukah (Shake It Off)
Debbie Friedman – The Latke Song
December 14, 2022 at 1:58 pm
I would like to recommend adding a wonderful Hanukkah song to this already wonderful list: Rebecca Golden’s “Eight Days of Hanukkah” (https://rebecca.oppenneer.com/hanukkah/)