There are dozens of songs about dreaming of a white Christmas, rocking around the Christmas tree and having a merry little Christmas, but really only one Hanukkah song.
Specifically, Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song.”
Sandler first performed “Chanukah Song” on “Saturday Night Live” in 1994 before it appeared on his 1996 “What The Hell Happened To Me?” album (and it’s that song’s lyrics we’re analyzing here). Versions with updated pop culture references followed in live performances.
With the Festival of Lights starting sundown Sunday, a good three weeks ahead of Christmas, we’re taking a close look at the song that pokes fun of the lack of national Hanukkah cheer.
Below are the lyrics, annotated, to answer these questions: Are all of the famous people mentioned actually members of the tribe? And what do those Jewish references mean? Everybody now …
“Put on your yarmulkes, here comes Chanukah /
So much funukah to celebrate Chanukah”
A “yarmulke,” also called a “kippah” for short, is a head covering worn by men in synagogue, and out of it (when it comes to Orthodox Jews). Some Orthodox women also wear kippot (that’s plural) as a sign of reverence for God, reminding the wearer that there’s always someone above them.
“Chanukah is the festival of lights /
Instead of one day of presents we get eight crazy nights”
As the story goes, Hanukkah recalls a time when a small band of Jews, led by Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, defeated a much bigger force and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. The celebration is for eight nights because the Jews went to light a candelabra with oil, and found only enough oil to last one night. Miraculously, the supply held up for eight days.
“When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree /
Here’s a list of people who are Jewish just like you and me”
In the newer iterations of Sandler’s songs, he invokes the names of different Jews.
“David Lee Roth lights the menorah /
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas and the late Dinah Shore-ah”
David Lee Roth is the Jewish Van Halen singer, now 64. A menorah is the traditional candelabra that Jews light on Hanukkah with nine candles, including the "shamash" that lights the other ones. James Caan is the 78-year-old Jewish actor who’s been in “The Godfather” and Christmas-themed “Elf.” Kirk Douglas is the 101-year-old Jewish “Spartacus” film star and father of Michael Douglas. Dinah Shore was a Jewish TV personality and vocalist famous in the ’40s. She died in 1994.
“Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli /
Bowzer from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzarelli”
The Carnegie Deli is an iconic deli chain based in New York that is reopening for a week starting Dec. 1 to sell $1 sandwiches as a promotion for “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a show about a Jewish title character who’s trying to become a comedian in 1950s New York City. “Bowzer” is the nickname of Jon Bauman, the 71-year-old Jewish singer from the Sha Na Na TV series. Henry Winkler, 73, is Jewish and played Arthur Fonzarelli, aka Fonzie, in “Happy Days” and now stars in “Barry.”
“Paul Newman’s half Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half, too /
Put them together, what a fine lookin’ Jew”
Paul Newman, who died in 2008, had a Jewish father. Goldie Hawn, 73, had a Jewish mother. In the Jewish religion, faith is matrilineal. That means that Judaism is carried down by the mother and not the father, so Newman isn't Jewish according to the rules of Jewish law.
“You don’t need to “Deck The Halls” or “Jingle Bell Rock” /
’Cause you can spin a dreidel with Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock — both Jewish”
A dreidel is a top with four sides, each with different Hebrew letters. Depending on how your dreidel lands, that’s how much gelt — chocolate coins — you win. William Shatner, 87, is the original Capt. Kirk from “Star Trek.” Leonard Nimoy played Spock. He died in 2015. Both are the offspring of Jews who fled Eastern Europe.
“Put on your yarmulke, it’s time for Chanukah /
The owner of the Seattle Supersonicahs celebrates Chanukah”
As Sandler told Howard Stern in September, Seattle SuperSonics owner Barry Ackerley made it clear he didn't appreciate this lyric, because he’s not Jewish. However, the founding owner of the NBA team, Sam Schulman, is Jewish, and so is Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO who acquired the team in 2001. The team played their final home game in 2008.
“O.J. Simpson, not a Jew /
But guess who is? Hall of Famer Rod Carew — he converted”
O.J. Simpson’s murder trial was in 1995, right before Sandler’s album with this song came out. Rod Carew, 73, is a baseball Hall of Famer. It’s unclear whether Carew actually did convert, but he did have a memorial service for his daughter, who died at 18, at Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Ana in 1996.
“We got Ann Landers and her sister Dear Abby /
Harrison Ford’s a quarter Jewish — not too shabby”
The advice columnists are both Jewish and are identical twins. Eppie Lederer, who died in 2002, was known by her pen name Ann Landers. Her sister Pauline Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren, aka Dear Abby, died in 2013. Ford’s Judaism comes from his mother’s side.
“Some people think that Ebenezer Scrooge is /
Well he’s not, but guess who is — all three Stooges”
Moses Horowitz, Larry Feinberg and Jerome Horowitz — better known as Moe, Larry and Curly — were blue-collar Jewish boys. (So was Shemp)
“So many Jews are in showbiz /
Tom Cruise isn’t, but I heard his agent is”
“Tell your friend Veronica /
It's time to celebrate Chanukah /
I hope I get a harmonicah /
Oh this lovely, lovely Chanukah /
So drink your gin and tonicah /
And smoke your marijuanikah /
If you really, really wannakah /
Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Chanukah.”
These are just fun forced rhymes. Happy Hanukkah