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Chanukah Songs

Many songs have been written to commemorate Chanukah, and they come from a wide variety of sources.  Some are based on medieval liturgical poetry (e.g., Ma'oz Tzur.)   Others find their roots in our various folk traditions, for example: Yiddish (O Chanukah), Sephardic/Ladino (Ocho Kandelikas); and Israeli (Mi Y'maleil).  Modern composers have added their own takes on the holiday (Light One Candle).  And of course, there's always "I Have a Little Dreidel," with so many versions and so many parodies over the years.  Include here are the songs and a brief background of a few of the songs we sing on Chanukah. 
This year (5782/2021) to see Cantor George sing Chanukah songs click here 
and if you would like to follow along, click here for the song sheets. 
Click on any red song title to hear Cantor George sing!
For the lyrics of all the songs use this "song sheet" so you may sing along.
Lighting the Chanukah Candles and Singing Ma'oz Tsur
Ma'oz Tsur: verses were written in the 13th Century as a liturgical poem called a "piyyut." (We sing many "piyyutim" during the High Holy Days.)  The melody we usually sing is likely from 19th Century Germany, although there is also a lovely version composed by the Italian composer Marcello in Venice in the early 1700s.
Sheet Music for Ma'oz Tsur
O (Oi) Chanukah: Chasidic melody with roots in classical pieces called "Freylechs" ("freylech," in Yiddish, means "joyous.") The song has Yiddish, Hebrew, and English verses, all of which focus on the happiness of Chanukah.
Mi Y'maleil: 20th century Israeli folk song written by Menashe Rabinowitz, incorporating verses from the Psalms.

Sheet Music for Mi Y'Maleil-Who Can Retell

Al Hanisim

Ocho Kandelikas: written by Sephardic folk singer Flory Jagoda in 1983 as part of her efforts to bring back the Ladino language and music of her childhood in Bosnia. To her credit, the song sounds much older than it actually is.
Sheet Music for Ocho Kandelikas
Light One Candle: written by Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) to express the need to promote freedom everywhere, using the Chanukah candles as a powerful image: "Don't let the light go out." Peter, Paul and Mary first performed the song in their 1982 Hanukkah/Christmas Concert at Carnegie Hall with the New York Choral Society.

Chanukah, Chanukah

I Have a Little Dreidel: I have no idea who composed this song, but we all know it so well! As with so many Jewish holiday songs, this one has both Yiddish and English versions, but the two versions are very different. The English song is about a dreidel, and the dreidel is made of clay. By contrast, the Yiddish song is actually sung by a dreidel, and this dreidel is made of lead (blay). And of course, in English, there are so many verses that have been written or improvised about dreidels made from just about anything.


And for some fun: Six-Thirteen: A Star Wars Chanukah: (85) Six13 - A Star Wars Chanukah - YouTube


Wed, February 8 2023 17 Shevat 5783