Hanukkah Songs: Celebrating the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that occurs towards the beginning of December. Traditionally, the holiday begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. This calendar, however, does not follow the same numerical guidelines as the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the dates differ each year.

Beginning on the 25th of Kislev, Hanukah is an eight-day celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the second century B.C.E, the Greeks had power over the Holy Land, and they forced the Jews to denounce their culture and their faith. A small army, led by Judah and the Maccabees, defeated the Greeks and restored the Holy Temple to its original purpose.

This historical occasion demonstrates the Jews’ faith in God and their triumph over corrupt and destructive leaders.

To celebrate the occasion, Jews light a candle on the menorah each night of Hanukkah. The lighting commemorates when the Jews lit their menorah after defeating the Greeks. The oil would have lasted only one day but, instead, lasted eight days. Recitations of special blessings accompany the candle lightings. The lighting is then preceded by singing traditional songs.

Although they are not very popularized, there are a variety of songs that celebrate and commemorate Hanukkah. There are a variety of genres that include:

  • Traditional Hanukkah songs
  • Modern Hanukkah songs
  • Hanukkah songs for children

Traditional Hanukkah Songs

The singing of songs is typical after the lighting of the menorah. They also can be sung casually to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Often, the traditional songs are in Hebrew, but they also have English translations. The following are classic songs and their lyrics.

“Hanukkah, O Hanukkah”

Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
Come light the menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the hora
Gather ’round the table
We’ll give you a treat
Sivivon to play with and latkes to eat
And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
to remind us of days long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
to remind us of days long ago.
Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
A time to remember.
A joyful, jolly holiday
that comes in December
Every day for eight days, dreidels will spin
Crispy little latkes, tasty and thin.
And nightly, so brightly,
the candles of Chanukah glow.
One for each night, they shed a sweet light,
to remind us of days long ago.
One for each night, they shed a sweet light,
to remind us of days long ago.

“Mi Yimalel (Who Can Retell?)” in English

Who can retell the things that befell us,
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Came to our aid.

Hark!
In days of yore in Israel’s ancient land
Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band
But now all Israel must as one arise
Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

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“Mi Yimalel” in Hebrew

Mi yimalel gevurot Yisrael,
Otan mi yimne?
Hen be’chol dor yakum ha’gibor
Goel ha’am.
Shma!
Ba’yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’ze
Maccabi moshia u’fode
U’v’yameinu kol am Yisrael
Yitached yakum ve’yigael
* “I Have A Little Dreidel”

I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!
Chorus: Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!
It has a lovely body
With legs so short and thin
And when my dreidel’s tired
It drops and then I win!
(Chorus)
My dreidel’s always playful
It loves to dance and spin
A happy game of dreidel
Come play now, let’s begin!
(Chorus)

Sivivon Sov Sov Sov” in English

Dreidel, spin, spin, spin
Chanukah is a great holiday.
Chanukah is a great holiday.
Dreidel, spin, spin, spin.
A holiday of happiness it is for the nation.
A great miracle happened there.
A great miracle happened there.
A holiday of happiness it is for the nation.

“Sivivon Sov Sov Sov” in Hebrew

Sivivon, sov, sov, sov
Chanukah, hu chag tov
Chanukah, hu chag tov
Sivivon, sov, sov, sov!
Chag simcha hu la-am
Nes gadol haya sham
Nes gadol haya sham
Chag simcha hu la-am.

Modern Hanukkah Songs

There are many traditional Hanukkah songs. However, there are not very many modern songs. Modern Hanukkah songs are much more casual than traditional songs. The following are some of the most popular modern tunes for Hanukkah that can put you in the spirit of the holiday.

  • “8 Days of Hanukkah” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
  • “Judah and the Maccabees” by Damon and Naomi
  • “The Latke Song” by Debbie Friedman
  • “Candlelight” by The Maccabeats

Hanukkah Songs for Children

There are also a variety of children’s Hanukkah songs aimed to be educational about the history behind the festival. These songs are more youthful but still can bring a fun element to the Hanukkah festivities.

  • “The Dreidel Song” by Debbie Friedman
  • “Hanukkah is Here” by The Kiboomers
  • “Chanukah Bamba” by Shira Kline
  • “Hanukkah, Hanukkah” by Jack Hartmann

Overall, there are many Hanukkah songs out there that tell the story of the rededication of the Holy Temple. Many also recount the success of the Maccabees. Other songs are sung while playing with a dreidel. It is a four-sided top that has four different letters from the Hebrew alphabet. The game involves a form of betting currency that is split among players based on the letter on which the dreidel lands. If the dreidel falls on a letter, then that letter determines how much of the betting currency the spinner receives. It is a game based entirely on luck, but it is a fun Hanukkah tradition that is accompanied by some very catchy songs.

All in all, Hanukkah songs can make the Festival of Lights a much more fun and joyful event. They also can make it more spiritual. There are so many Hanukkah songs out there to enjoy.

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