Maybe it's the Christmas "competition," but it seems like there are more songs about Hanukkah than about any other Jewish holiday. And why not? It's fun and delicious and lasts for eight amazing days. So if the only Hanukkah song you know is "Dreidel Dreidel," read on.
1. Michelle Citrin, "Left to Right"
In 2008, Michelle Citrin and William Levin created this music video (reminiscent of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company ad from The Office) with help from people across the world who submitted short clips of themselves lighting Hanukkah candles and then passing the candle on to someone else. It’s an awesome video and a catchy and sweet song. And even better, it reminds you which way you’re supposed to light the candles. (I forget every year!)
2. Erran Baron Cohen: “Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah” (Songs in the Key of Hanukkah)
Yes, he's the brother of Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Da Ali G Show, etc.) and he’s even done a lot of the music for Sacha’s movies. But Erran also has this Hanukkah album with remixes of some of the classic songs. We like "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah"--it's a little bit klezmer but with a fresh sound that’s unlike any Hanukkah song you’ve heard before.
3. Shira Kline, "Chanukah Bamba" (ShirLaLa Chanukah!)
It is really hard to choose the best Hanukkah song on Shira Kline's album ShirLaLa Chanukah! Shira is an incredible live performer who gets kids up and dancing to every song. Even on the CD her music is infectious. If we had to choose one, though, it would have to be "Chanukah Bamba." Yes, it's a play on "La Bamba," but it's also a great one to blast and sing with your kids at the top of their lungs.
4. The Klezmatics: "Happy Joyous Hanuka" (Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah)
Though the country twang of this song conjures up images of people square-dancing around their menorahs, it's got a great beat that makes your toes tap. The whole album is filled with upbeat and fun music for dancing around the kitchen with your kids, but my favorite is "Happy Joyous Hanuka." (For more on the story of how Woody Guthrie and the Klezmatics combined to create this great album, see here.)
5. The LeeVees: "How Do You Spell Channukkahh" (Hanukah Rocks)
This band is fronted by Adam Gardner (from Guster) and Dave Schneider (from the Zambonis) who, when together, make rockin Hanukkah music on their album Hanukah Rocks (if they do say so themselves). Some of their songs are ridiculously silly (an examination of life at the timeshare), and others are serious explorations of the important issues of our time (applesauce vs. sour cream). My favorite is "How Do You Spell Channukkahh."
6. Peter, Paul & Mary, "Light One Candle" (Around the Campfire)
"Light One Candle" is my absolute favorite Hanukkah song, and that’s not just because I loved "Puff the Magic Dragon." It starts out slowly and calmly, and builds to a crescendo of "don’t let the light go out!" It always made me feel like it was my personal responsibility to be sure not to let that light go out--in whatever metaphorical way you interpret light. Peter talks about the light being justice, memory, and peace. And especially in this season of the year, I like to sing this song and feel like I’m recommitting myself to pursuing that.
7. Julie Silver, "Chanukah Blessings" (It's Chanukah Time)
This is a more traditional Hanukkah album with all of the classic songs you might remember from when you were a kid. And yes, it might be a little bit overproduced, but she's got a beautiful and easy to sing-along-with rendition of the Hanukkah blessings. For those of us who don’t always like to advertise our tone-deaf-ness, it's nice to have some backup!
8. Mare Winningham, "A Convert Jig" (Refuge Rock Sublime)
So this isn’t really a Hanukkah song. Sorry. But Mare Winningham, who you might remember from such films as St. Elmo's Fire, Turner & Hooch, and Wyatt Earp, converted to Judaism in 2003 and came out with her own Jewish album. It's Jewish country…kind of awesome.
9. Kenny Ellis, "Sevivon Sov Sov Sov" (Hanukkah Swings)
For a different take on Hanukkah, check out this album by Kenny Ellis. It makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time to the Big Band Era. It’s kind of amazing how much the Hanukkah classics really go with the swingin’ feel. I like "Sevivon Sov Sov Sov"-'it just sounds goooood.
10. Peter & Ellen Allard, "Judah Maccabee, The Hammer" (Sing Shalom: Songs for the Jewish Holidays)
The Allards are the king and queen of Jewish preschool music, so it's only natural that they'd make our top 10 list. Their song about Judah Maccabee tells a little bit of the story of Hanukkah and has an almost bluesy-rock feel. And the rest of the album goes through all of the Jewish holidays--so if you want to buy just one CD for the whole year, this is probably it.