Holiday Horrors: Hannukah Songs

For other Holiday Horrors posts, click here.

This falls under the category of “stuff that makes me sad for no good reason”, as mentioned in my last Holiday Horrors post. Note that “Songs” in the title is plural. I assume many people can’t name a Hannukah song other than “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel”, and I’m not sure that even qualifies under the legal definition of a song. It’s more like a jingle.

No, there really aren’t any Hannukah songs, just like there really aren’t any Easter songs or Thanksgiving songs. It’s not a holiday that’s inspired too many composers to bang out a tune. But, if you were ever in the school band or chorus as a kid (or a parent of one), you know that Hannukah songs exist.

Because school music departments buy their sheet music (which is really expensive) in packages, usually themed. And the holiday packages inevitably include some “Hannukah song” for the purposes of inclusion. You will never have heard of this song, even if you’re Jewish, because this song/composition was probably written by some guy at The Sheet Music Company to pad out the aforementioned package. (There weren’t any Kwanzaa tunes when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they exist now.)

So the school band conductor/chorus leader, not wanting anyone to feel left out (or let very expensive sheet music go to waste), has his young charges perform the song at the holiday concert. Even though, again, no one in attendance has ever heard of it. The song inevitably sounds like a number cut from Fiddler on the Roof in early rehearsals, and has a vague title like “Festival of Lights”. And to emphasize it’s tossed-off-edness, it is wedged into the program right before the showstopping Christmas medley.

When I was a kid, this always made me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for any Jewish kids/families at my school, even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I guess because it’s a strange, ham-fisted approach to cultural sensitivity. As if doing anything will be enough, even if it has little to no relevance to the culture involved–or is borderline insulting. “Hey, to honor your Italian heritage, I made a bowl of pasta and threw a Frank Sinatra album on top of it, and set it out on the dining room table as a decorative centerpiece. No need to thank me!”

Around this time every year, I always think of those weird, anonymous Hannukah tunes that everyone was forced to play and nobody liked. And I wonder if kids and parents still sit in stuffy school auditoriums, squirming with discomfort just hearing them.