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December 9, 2009

Why couldn't he have chosen Festivus instead?

Jesse Lansner

menorah.jpgAh, December, that magical month when normally pleasant-looking building are hidden behind garish holiday Christmas decorations, slow-moving tourists and shoppers clog the streets, and you can't turn on the radio or enter a store without hearing the same dozen Christmas holiday songs on endless repeat. True, some of these songs are quite catchy, but it is asking too much to hear something new? The most recent addition to the holiday canon is Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You, and that's 15 years old now. It seems unlikely that a new tune will ever be added into the rotation.

And yet, every year artists across the musical spectrum release more holiday albums, confident that, even if these songs will have no lasting impact on the culture, they will at least make some money. This year's more interesting options include Chirstmas In the Heart, Bob Dylan's much-discussed benefit album; A Cherry Cherry Christmas, a mix of reissues and new releases in which Neil Diamond tries to erase all the goodwill he built up with his recent Rick Rubin-produced albums; Joy To the World: A Bluegrass Christmas, one of those releases where the title tells you everything you need to know; If On a Winter's Night, Sting's take on old English carols; and Midwinter Graces in which Tori Amos abandons her attraction to sin in favor of some reimagined carols.

And yet, as artists like these search ever more desperately and futilely for some new take on Christmas song – the Bluegrass Christmas is one of over a dozen such albums from the last decade alone – with the exception of Diamond's cover of Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song, they continue to ignore the open field that is Hanukkah music. Is there no hope for this holiday that owes its prominence solely so that Jewish children can get some presents in December? Is there not one of us who will come forward to save future generations from having to rely on the Dreidel Song as the token Hanukkah entry thrown in among the standard noels? (Novelty songs, like the LeeVee's Hanukkah Rocks don't count.)

Or perhaps, since it was Jewish songwriters who created the Christmas classics, some nice goyim will come along and bless us with a nice Hanukkah song? Well, our prayers have been answered, in the form of Senator Orrin Hatch who has written – though thankfully does not sing – a new song titled "Eight Days of Hanukkah."

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

The Times describes this as "A Senator's Gift to the Jews, Nonreturnable" – which leaves open the hope that we might find a way to regift it – but it's more than that, as Jonah Jeffrey [Oops - Ed.] Goldberg notes in the article that introduces this musical shonda to the world:

"Hatch said he hoped his song would be understood not only as a gift to the Jewish people but that it would help bring secular Jews to a better understanding of their own holiday. "I know a lot of Jewish people that don't know what Hanukkah means," he said. Jewish people, he said, should "take a look at it and realize the miracle that's being commemorated here. It's more than a miracle; it's the solidification of the Jewish people."

That's one interpretation. Another, that Goldberg addresses, is that Hanukkah commemorates the victory of religious zealots over liberal reformers:

One of contradictions of Hanukkah—an unexplored contradiction in our culture's anodyne understanding of the holiday—is that the Maccabee brothers were fighting not for the principle of religious freedom but only for their own particular religion's freedom. Their understanding of liberty did not extend even—or especially—to the Hellenized Jews of Israel's coastal plains. The Maccabees were rough Jews from the hill country of Judea. They would be amused, if they were capable of amusement, to learn that their revolt would one day be remembered as a struggle for a universal civil right.

But not knowing all the details of the historical event that Hanukkah commemorates is different form not knowing what Hanukkah means; which is, of course, whatever you want it to mean. One of the many advantages Hanukkah has over Christmas is that we don't have millions of self-appointed experts and thousands of songs, movies and TV shows telling us how to properly observe the Festival of Lights. We are free to commemorate a great victory or merely note a minor miracle; to celebrate the Maccabees or to skip over their involvement; or – my preference – to just gather with friends and family to light some candles and eat and drink to excess. On second thought, we don't need any new Hanukkah songs; they'd only ruin the party.


Is that chick the Hanukkah slut? That's cool. What you guys got for the spring? We have The Easter Bunny. If you guys got a Purim Pornstar or something I'm totally going to convert!

Psst. It was Jeffrey Goldberg, not Jonah Goldberg. Different concept.

Not by Jonah Goldberg? Darn, I was hoping it was yet another self-described "very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care," like Goldberg's many-American-liberals-are-vegetarian ... just-like-HITLER genre masterpiece. Poor Jonah, the good Jewish son of wildcat Episcopalian mother Lucianne, lifelong Republican Party political operative, who advised Linda Tripp to record all her conversations with Monica Lewinsky, and who back in the day bragged to have had Mata Hari affairs with both Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, and who infiltrated George McGovern's campaign committee in order to spy for Nixon. Now *that's* a solemn history Orrin Hatch should write a festive song about!

That being said, I wish Bob Dylan had covered Adam Sandler's genius "Hanukkah Song" on his Christmas album.

Thanks. I've corrected the name above.

A Dylan version of Sandler's song would have to be more interesting than Diamond's cover. But it would be even better if he covered the second Chanukah Song, where Sandler actually cites Dylan: "Bob Dylan was born a Jew / Then he wasn't, but now he's back." Since the last part of that statement is open to debate, it would be nice to see what Bob actually does with the line.

Thanks for taking on that Orrin Hatch abomination. I'm stunned at how many of my Jewhort seem genuinely positive about it. FWIW, the real Hanukkah hit of the season is Hip Hop Hoodios' version of Ocho Kandelikas.

Of course, longtime readers will recall that your final point echoes my own arguments to Christopher Hitchens in the great Hanukkah debate of 07.

Also: nice find on the photo.

Orrin Hatch needs to take some time from his missions to educate the Jews and the BCS and concentrate on helping his coworkers understand their purpose and the meaning of governance

Awesome tits!

Give her a spin, if she lands on shin, you get to put it in.
But I really want to see her gimmel.

Bare Naked Ladies created a lovely Hanukkah song, "Blessing of the Lights".

If you look closely, it's obvious that the woman in blue is texting Tiger.

OMG! I'll never look at Chanakuh the same way again :p

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