I went to the Sufjan Stevens show last week at Track 29. The show was billed as a Christmas sing-a-long. And it was. Stevens invited the audience on numerous occasions to sing along to various Christmas classics, including “We Need a Little Christmas,” “O Holy Night” and “Sleigh Ride.” But it was during the middle of Stevens’ rendition of “Joy to the World” when I had a religious experience of pop culture proportions.
As Stevens sang, the crowd joined in, and suddenly, I had a strange revelation, one that I had felt before but never this strongly. A feeling of warmness, tenderness, and unity spread over me. And then I felt an extreme longing, a yearning for something, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
And then it hit me. As a Jew, I wondered why there weren’t any good Hanukkah songs to help celebrate the season. Music certainly helps unite Christians together during the holidays. Why can’t it do the same for Jews?
The problem is twofold. Hanukkah is not the Christmas equivalent in Judaism, at least not in a spiritual sense. It’s actually a minor holiday in the Jewish scheme of things. Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the big dogs.
Hanukkah is like the St. Patrick’s Day of the Jewish religion; it’s fun to celebrate, but it doesn’t get you out of work. However, it has evolved, at least in the United States, into a holiday in which many Jews reflect on their heritage, their Jewish identity, if you will.
And with ever-increasing commercialism of Christmas dominating the holiday season, the little holiday that could has become a time when little Jewish kids struggle to find ways to compete with the coolness of Christmas. We’ve managed to compete in the giving-gifts area, but we still lack in the non-cheesy holiday songs department.
And it’s gotten worse. It seems that pop music artists of every genre are releasing Christmas-themed albums every year. Fellow Jews Barbara Streisand and Neil Diamond have both been known for their Christmas albums. Have you ever heard of them putting out a Hanukkah album? Yeah, me neither.
Sure, we have songs such as "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" and "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah," but they’re geared toward kids and come off as sounding elementary compared with Christmas carols like “Silent Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
So, I’ve scoured the Internet to find the coolest Hanukkah songs I can find. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
Adam Sandler, "The Hanukkah Song"
Sandler started the trend, but the novelty of this one seems to have worn over the years.
Dick Dale and the Deftones, "Hava Nagila"
It’s not necessarily a Hanukkah song, but we’ll take what we can get.
The Braces, "Jewish Guilt"
Meh, this one’s OK.
Barenaked Ladies, "Hanukkah Blessings"
This one is borderline cheesy because of the lyrics and because it’s the Barenaked Ladies. Again, we’ll take what we can get.
South Park, "A Jew on Christmas" (NSFW)
If you’re not easily offended, this one is sure to be in your Hanukkah song rotation.
Beck, "Little Drum Machine Boy" (NSFW)
A trippy, electronica Hanukkah tribute from the “Loser” himself.
They Might Be Giants, "Feast of Lights"
A Hanukkah song about a dysfunctional relationship?
Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.