A decade ago, comedian Rachel Bloom released “Chanukah Honey,” a Jewish parody of the flirty Christmas classic “Santa Baby,” as part of her excellent Hanukkah comedy album, “Suck it, Christmas!!!” Now, we finally have a very serious and incredibly infectious Jewish take on the flirtatious Christmas song trope, also titled “Hanukkah Honey,” from Jewish singer Layla Frankel. This time, it’s an incredibly catchy love song that will remind you of your favorite pop stars like Meghan Trainor and Kelly Clarkson.
Frankel also released a delightful video for the song, in which she’s wearing sparkling blue outfits and surrounded by dancers and backup singers in Hanukkah sweaters. It’s full of sparkles and lights and a lot of fun to watch, but more than anything, the song is genuinely infectious and delightful. Frankel’s killer vocals and the perfect musical arrangement, with a Motown feel and a little soupçon of a holiday classic vibe, tie it all together.
“In these short days and darker nights, let’s celebrate with a little light,” Frankel sings, asking the song’s recipient to be her “Hanukkah honey” who’s “bringing all the holiday cheer.”
“When I’m with my Hanukkah honey, it’s the best eight days of the year,” the song goes on.
We all know the best Christmas songs are love songs, from “Last Christmas” to “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and Frankel’s new tune is really on par with some of these most excellent songs. No need for Christmas envy when you have tunes like these.
Over e-mail, Kveller talked to Frankel about the inspiration behind this song, how a Jewish summer camp connection helped her make the video, and about the trademarked Jewish dance in it.
Can you talk a little bit more about how this song came to be? What is the inspiration behind it, and what was the process of writing it and getting it recorded?
I wrote “Hanukkah Honey” two years ago when I was preparing for a hometown show at my favorite venue, Evanston SPACE (which happened to be on the third night of Hanukkah). I wanted to perform a holiday original as my encore so I was sitting with my guitar in my parents’ living room in Chicago and started coming up with the idea for the first verse and chorus. My Dad, Joel Frankel, who is also a songwriter, was home that day and helped with some lyrical and melodic ideas for the song. I finished the song the day of the performance and debuted a solo acoustic version of it that night to an incredibly responsive crowd. I knew from their reaction that we had something special.
My objective was to write a song that could share a playlist with Christmas pop songs. I don’t think there are really any songs that Jews have that are mainstream enough and have musical representation during the holidays. I wasn’t looking to write a joke song or parody like so many other Hanukkah songs, but a contemporary pop song that just happened to also be for Hanukkah. I think in that respect I did what I set out to do!
I assume this was written and created before October 7. Have your feelings about putting out this song changed after that?
It’s a complicated time to release a joyful Hanukkah song, that’s for sure! When the attacks first happened, I was shocked and horrified by what was happening. It’s such a sad and scary time for so many people. I was a couple of weeks into raising funds to help make the music video, and I was torn about whether or not I should wait until next year. I even thought about pulling the plug on the project entirely. We were all so grief-stricken and I was nervous that a song so high-energy would be seen in poor taste or worse yet, that it would offend someone suffering.
It is important to grieve and honor our collective pain, but ultimately, I decided to go through with making the video and releasing the song this year in hopes that it could bring some joy and light into people’s lives. The song was always about celebrating my culture and heritage with joy and pride and I didn’t want to hide. I think songs like these matter now more than ever.
Can you tell me a little bit about your Hanukkah traditions growing up and as an adult?
I grew up in a musical household; my parents, brother and I all sang and played musical instruments so our holidays were always full of songs. We’d light the candles together and then sing all the classic Hanukkah songs we knew, and sometimes make up new ones. We also used to throw an annual Hanukkah party and invited all of our friends (Jews and non-Jews) to come by and have latkes, play dreidel, light the candles, sing songs and eat jelly donuts. I used to look forward to that every year. Even as an adult, I still really enjoy the ritual of lighting the candles, singing the blessings and spending quality time together with both my Jewish and non-Jewish friends.
Do you have a favorite Hanukkah song?
I love the Hanukkah classic “Maoz Tzur.” We even referenced it in the beginning and end of “Hanukkah Honey.” It reminds me of childhood, trying to learn the Hebrew words and mumbling my way through them, but still just appreciating the tradition of singing the song year after year together with my family.
The video is so delightful! I definitely feel like I want more sequins and sparkles in my holiday celebrations! Can you talk a little bit about the process of making the video and tell us about your amazing outfits? Because our entire staff wants them.
Thank you! Why stop at the holidays? I say wear sequins and sparkles all year round!
I had a blast making this video, although most of the credit goes to my friend Marc Morgan, an experienced filmmaker and producer in Los Angeles. We actually go way back to when I was a child and he was my camp counselor at Camp Tavor. In September of this year, I sent him the finished track in hopes that he would help me brainstorm ideas for a TikTok video I wanted to make. He called me back immediately after listening and said, “This is a hit! It’s too good to just make a TikTok video, you need a full music video.” He really saw the potential in the song to be something special and was committed to helping make the video a reality. I couldn’t have asked for a better creative partner on this project.
I set up a crowdfunding page and with help from my generous friends and fans, I was miraculously able to raise the funds to make the video. Marc did the storyboarding, put the crew together, found the studio, the lighting, the props, directed and edited, so he played a major role in the process. I was in charge of the costumes and dancers. We wanted Christmas meets Motown meets Hanukkah colors with a nod to Jewish culture and I think we checked all of those boxes. Nashville-based choreographer Joi Ware recorded videos of the choreography for me and my backup singers and dancers to learn from, and we were even able to get a group of dancers from a local Israeli folk dance group, Israeli Dance Revolution, to be extras in the video. They actually created additional choreography for the song and it is now a registered Israeli folk dance, which just gives me great joy.
As for the outfits, I wanted to go full-fledged Hanukkah Diva for the choruses, so a silver sequined jumpsuit and fluffy blue fur coat seemed to do the job. I was overdressed for October in LA but I was committed.
I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but many of the items in this video were found at thrift stores. I love a good thrift find. The coat outfit in the intro was meant to reflect casual winter streetwear, but we wanted to have something a little more dressed up for the vignettes in the verses. Our goal with the costumes was mainly to provide contrast: between the verses and the choruses, and between lead vocals and the backup singers and dancers. I picked out outfits that would provide a different feel depending on where we were in the song with blue, silver and white being the common theme.
Anything else you’d like people to know about the song and your Jewish identity?
I think of myself as a songwriter and musician who happens to be Jewish, and until this point, I hadn’t come out with a specifically Jewish song before. I feel proud of my Jewish heritage and grateful for the greater community I grew up in and my hope for this song is that it captures the heart of both Jews and non-Jews. Yes, it’s for the Jews who need a fresh Hanukkah song, but it’s also for anyone who loves holiday music and wants something new on their playlists. It’s for people who like soulful songs, Motown grooves and harmonies. It’s for a future Hallmark movie (December 2024 maybe?).
I’m so very proud of this song and what my team and I have created and grateful to be able to release it into the world this year. We put a lot of love into it! I hope it brings joy to those who hear it and see the video.