In an unfortunate confluence of the Hebrew and Christian calendars, Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 25, which means that we Jews will have to deal with the ol' "Hanukkah? Isn't that the Jewish Christmas?" thing from those unenlightened goyim a lot more than usual this year. Still, when it comes to music, Jewish songwriters and performers have played no small part in fostering such confusion. You've got nineteenth-century Parisian Jew Adolphe Adam, who composed the enduring Christmas carol "O Holy Night." And, of course, Irving Berlin, the Russian-born Jew who wrote "White Christmas." And don't look to Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow to represent the Tribe -- both of them have put out two Christmas albums and zero Hanukkah albums. Other wayward Jews include Michael Bolton, Kenny G, Sleater-Kinney (two-thirds Jewish!), the Kabbalah-ed Madonna and Yo La Tengo -- which, back in 2002, actually had the beytzim to hand out a free EP of Christmas songs at its annual Hanukkahpalooza eight-night stand in its native Hoboken, New Jersey! Until this situation is righted, here's what we're stuck with during this Festival of Lights:
Adam Sandler, "The Chanukah Song": Dubiously amusing the first time around, Sandler's outing of Jewish celebs as a matter of pride is about as painful a repeat listen now as "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." And Jewish grandmas don't really like that line "Smoke your marijuanakkah...."
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Barenaked Ladies, Barenaked for the Holidays: Following in the footsteps of such musical Canadian Jews as Leonard Cohen and William Shatner, Barenaked Ladies frontman (and resident Semite) Steven Page led his wretched band through Hanukkah songs such as "I Have a Dreidel" and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" -- all of them making "One Week" sound like "Hey Jude" in comparison.
Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics: This holiday album from the creators of South Park does include the genuinely funny Stan-sung lament "The Lonely Jew on Christmas," although Great Uncle Shlomo might not appreciate the Cartman-as-Hitler version of "O Tannenbaum."
The LeeVees, Hanukkah Rocks : A valiant effort from a Jew-pergroup led by Adam Gardner (of Guster) and Dave Schneider (of the Zambonis), this just-released album comes closer than anything in recent memory to delivering legit new Hanukkah songs, but it still crumbles under the weight of the overall gimmick. "Latke Clan" and "Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)" sound like Hanukkah on the Kinks tour bus circa 1966, while "Applesauce vs. Sour Cream" plays like a Hebrew They Might Be Giants (They Might Be Nudniks?). Not bad, but not likely to stand the test of time.
Neil Diamond, 12 Songs : While not exactly Hanukkah-related, this is one fine comeback album from Neil Diamond (aka "The Jewish Elvis") produced by Rick Rubin, that nice Jewish boy from Long Island. Crank this, then spin that friggin' dreidel and hope for the best. Go, gimmel!