Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmasongs: Happy Hanukkah!

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

(While I first wrote this piece back in 2011, it's always a favorite to trot out again each Hanukkah with another song or two added each time.)

According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the 25th day of Kislev, more commonly observed as the kick off to Hanukkah. Don’t feel bad if the eight-day Festival of Lights snuck up on you again this year. Since Jewish holidays aren’t based on the internationalized Gregorian calendar, they actually fall on different days each year. Due to the differences in marking the passage of time and days, Hanukkah can actually be celebrated as early as late November or as late as the end of December. I say we all do our own part to demystify the aura of the menorah and I’ll start with a “Hanukkah Crash Course” and some awesome Hanukkah-inspired tunes.

While I’m no scholar (or the Holiday Armadillo), here’s goes… In 175 BCE, Greek ruler Antiochus IV invaded Judea, recaptured Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism, and desecrated the Holy Temple. Not only could Jews no longer openly practice their beliefs and customs, but Antiochus IV went so far as to ransack the Holy Temple and to sacrifice pigs on the altar. This caused a giant backlash of uprising and guerilla warfare (commonly referred to as the Maccabean Revolt, “maccabean” being taken from the Jewish word for “hammer”) that allowed the Jewish people to reclaim the city and the Holy Temple. They had to repurify the temple by creating new holy vessels and by building a brand new altar. They were only able to find one undefiled container of oil for the temple’s menorah and it was only enough to last through one night’s burning. However, the oil burned for eight days straight, which was the exact time it took for the priests to prepare more oil for the menorah. Hanukkah was established to celebrate, among other things, the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the oil.

While there certainly aren’t a plethora of rocking songs about Hanukkah (punk covers of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” nonwithstanding), there are a few out there that find themselves right at home in my annual holiday festivities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Adam Sandler first introduced “The Chanukah Song” in 1994 on Saturday Night Live during an episode of “Weekend Update.” They played it a ton on the radio stations where I lived and I learned the simple chords and lyrics to earn some cool points with my school and church friends. Adam’s currently released three different versions of the song with an ever-revolving cast of Jewish and non-Jewish celebrities. Although they are all hilarious, the first version will always hold a special place for it’s sheer out-of-nowhere awesomeness.

"The Chanukah Song" - Adam Sandler

Stephen Colbert released his holiday special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! in 2008 and it is filled with ridiculously funny songs and guest stars. Among them is the holiday invitational duet, “Can I Interest You In Hannukah?” sung with Jon Stewart. Much like Sandler’s song, this one is incredibly clever and the first few times you hear it you’re guaranteed to miss a line or two from laughter.

"Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" - Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart

Save Ferris was one of those third wave ska bands from the 90’s that I thought should’ve gotten more recognition. I loved their It Means Everything album from 1997 and it’s a shame that there was apparently only room for No Doubt in the “girl-fronted ska band” category. Save Ferris’ “Christmas Wrapping” is a fun take on The Waitresses’ song that changes all the lyrics by subbing in Hanukkah references.

"Christmas Wrapping" - Save Ferris

When members of Guster and The Zambonies got together to form The LeeVees, they had only one goal in mind; write an entire album’s worth of Hanukkah songs. They succeeded and Hanukkah Rocks was released in 2005. The album has a great sonic sound to it and songs titles like “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “Gelt Melts” should tell you all you need to know. May favorite song takes on the spelling dilemma that surrounds Hanukkah and is appropriately titled “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” to help confuse things even further.

"How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" - The LeeVees

Long before they hit it big with "Stacy's Mom" in 2003, Fountains of Wayne were just a quirky alt-pop band with an amazing ear for singalong melodies. Their 1996 self-titled debut alone contained a wealth of gems like "Leave the Biker," "Radiation Vibe," and "Sink to the Bottom." This little Hanukkah ditty was tucked away as the second b-side on their "I Want An Alien for Christmas" single from 1997. It may only be 16 seconds long, but the swinging lounge-vibe is a perfect slice of Fountains of Wayne goofiness and it compliments the other two Christmas nuggets on the single (the title track and "The Man in the Santa Suit") really well.   

"Chanukah Under the Stars" - Fountains of Wayne

I know Barenaked Ladies can be a bit of a polarizing band, but I've always kind of enjoyed their left-of-center, tongue-in-cheek approach to songwriting. They released Barenaked for the Holidays in 2005 and it's mix of Christmas and Hanukkah songs provides a really festive mix of holiday favorites. Out of their handful of Hanukkah songs, I like the folksy stomp of "I Have a Little Dreidel" just a tad more than "Hanukkah, O Hanukkah" and "Hanukkah Blessings." Although it clocks in at just under a minute, it's infectious melody is guaranteed to have you singing/humming/whistling it for the rest of the day.  

"I Have a Little Dreidel" - Barenaked Ladies

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