This is the 84th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Adam Sandler was 17 when he first performed at a Boston comedy club in the early-to-mid ’80s. By the decade’s end, he had been a regular on MTV’s “Remote Control” and appeared in the movie, going overboard. Sandler joined “Saturday Night Live” in 1990, paving the way for him to appear with other actors from the show in 1993’s “Coneheads.” The following year, he co-starred in “Airheads” with Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi.
But while his star was rising as an actor, he remained on “Saturday Night Live.” In some of his visits to the show’s “Weekend Update” segment, he sang. Often, he performed as the over-the-top Opera Man, but sometimes appeared as himself, with a guitar. In a 1992 appearance, he and Kevin Nealon sang a song about Thanksgiving.
A live version of “The Thanksgiving Song” was featured on Sandler’s 1993 debut album, “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!”
When Sandler first performed the song on “Saturday Night Live,” Nealon said the show was hoping to start a new tradition in which a different cast member would compose a song. But the following year, Sandler returned to sing a variation of “The Thanksgiving Song” as… Bruce Springsteen.
Those two songs were more or less nonsense, with Sandler coming up with weird, non-sequitur rhymes over simple guitar chords. But it was nonsense that was beloved, and served as the precursor to an even sillier and more beloved song about a holiday.
In December 1994, Sandler appeared with his guitar on “Weekend Update” again. After Norm Macdonald introduced him, Sandler said, “When I was a kid, this time of year always… Always made me feel a little left out because in school, there were so many Christmas songs, and all us Jewish kids had was the song ‘Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.’ So, I wrote a brand new Hanukkah song for you Jewish kids to sing and I hope you like it.”
Then, in his weird voice that vacillates between a fake falsetto and a gravelly growl, he sang:
Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Chanukah
So much funukah
To celebrate Chanukah
Chanukah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights
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
David Lee Roth lights the menorah
So do James Caan, Kirk Douglas, and the late Dinah Shore-ah
Guess who eats together at the Carnegie Deli
Bowser from Sha Na Na and Arthur Fonzerelli
Paul Newman’s half Jewish, Goldie Hawn’s half too
Put them together, what a fine lookin’ Jew
The rest of the song continued in that same vein, with Sandler name-dropping all sorts of people who were Jewish. Or, rather, those whom he thought were Jewish. Turns out he was off the mark on some of them, including Rod Carew, who told TMZ, “I was about to convert, but I never did. I think Adam found out about that.”
But the song was well-received, and became a staple at live shows. A live version of “The Chanukah Song” appeared on Sandler’s 1996 album, “What the Hell Happened to Me?”
(Sandler has spelled the title as “The Chanukah Song,” which is the spelling I will use for the official title of the song; Pop Culture Experiment style is to spell the holiday as “Hanukkah.”)
By 1999, Sandler had updated the song in live performances, with new lyrics:
Drinks Manischewitz wine
Then spins a draydle with Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein
Guess who gives and receives
Loads of Chanukah toys
The girls from Veruca Salt and all three Beastie Boys
Lenny Kravitz is half Jewish,
Courtney Love is half too
Put them together
What a funky badass Jew
We got Harvey Keitel
And flash dancer Jennifer Beals
Yasmine Bleeth from Baywatch is Jewish
And yes her boobs are real
He included “The Chanukah Song, Pt. 2” on the 1999 album, “Stan And Judy’s Kid.”
By the end of the ’90s, “The Chanukah Song” had appeared on several Billboard charts, peaking at Number 80 on the Hot 100, Number 22 on the Mainstream Top 40, Number 35 on the Adult Contemporary chart, Number 25 on the Alternative Songs chart, and Number 10 on the Radio songs chart.
Since then, he’s updated the song a few more times. Appearing on “Saturday Night Live” in 2002 with a children’s chorus called The Drei-Dels, Sandler performed “The Chanukah Song, Pt. 3”:
Ross and Phoebe from Friends
say the Chanukah blessing,
So does Lenny’s pal Squiggy and Will and Grace’s Debra Messing!
Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon never mixed meat with dairy,
Maybe they shoulda called that show
Little Kosher House on the Prairie!
We got Jerry Lewis,
Ben Stiller, and Jack Black,
Tom Arnold converted to Judaism,
but you guys can have him back!
Midway, he was joined onstage by Rob Schneider, who sang bits of the song with him.
A variation of this performance ended up on the soundtrack for Sandler’s Hanukkah-themed movie, “Eight Crazy Nights.”
In 2009, “The Chanukah Song” was certified gold. Sandler’s most recent update of the song came in 2015, with “The Chanukah Song, Pt. 4,” which he performed at the “Judd Apatow and Friends” Carnegie Hall performance. Sandler then recorded a YouTube version at San Diego’s Civic Theatre.
Among the new additions:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt enjoys eating kugel
So does Stan Lee, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the two guys who founded Google
Adam Levine wears a Jewish star
So does Drake and Seth Rogen
Goldberg has a gold yarmulke to match the belt he won from Hulk Hogan
We got Scarlett Johansson, talk about a Kosher crush
And if you need a higher voice to turn you on, how about Geddy Lee from Rush?
This incarnation, like the others, was later released as a single.
Of all these versions, that first version is probably the best-known version. When other artists have performed “The Chanukah Song,” they have either performed that incarnation, or rewritten the lyrics entirely.
Australian Jewish punk band Yidcore — whose cover of “The Dreidel Song” appeared in last week’s post — played punk versions of Israeli and Jewish songs. On the band’s 2003 release, “The Adam Slander EP,” Yidcore recast Sandler’s song as “Punk Rock Chanukah Song.” The concept was similar, except in this case, all the people name-dropped were punk rock icons who were Jewish.
Since 1999, the “Broadway’s Carols for a Cure” series has brought Broadway performers together to record CDs of holiday songs to raise money for AIDS-related causes. “Broadway’s Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure, Vol. 10, 2008” featured Constantine Maroulis, Adinah Alexander, and the Broadway Cast Of “The Wedding Singer” singing “The Chanukah Song,” which on this album was spelled “The Hanukkah Song.” The charm of Sandler’s version was his silly voices and simplistic playing. In the hands trained musicians and singers who treated this as a semi-serious musical number, the song sounded even sillier.
Neil Diamond covered “The Chanukah Song” for his 2009 album, “A Cherry Cherry Christmas.” Diamond was in on the joke, sounding like he was impersonating himself in the style of Sandler. The schlock peaked toward the three-minute mark with an extended guitar solo. For Diamond, that was pretty gnarly.
Haim — which comprises sisters Este Haim, Danielle Haim, and Alana Haim — covered “The Chanukah Song” on BBC Radio 6 in December of 2012. Throughout the song, the band members could be heard giggling. Toward the end of the song, they paused to wish a happy birthday to Alana.
In 2013, “The Chanukah Song” once again appeared on a “Broadway’s Carols for a Cure CD.” This time, it was performed by Eric Anderson, Amber Iman, Ron Orbach, and The Original Broadway Cast Of “Soul Doctor.” Instead of singing Sandler’s original lyrics, the singers listed off famous Broadway performers who are Jewish.
In addition to these covers and variations, “The Chanukah Song” has inspired parodies that have nothing to do with Hanukkah. In a 2006 episode of “The Office,” Steve Carell’s character Michael Scott sang “The Diwali Song” about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights:
Diwali is a festival of lights
Let me tell you something
Tonight has been
One cra-a-a-zy night
So put on your saris
It’s time to celebrate Diwali
Everybody looks so jolly
But it’s not Christmas, it’s Diwali
The goddess of destruction Kali
Stopped by to celebrate Diwali
Don’t invite any zombies to a celebration of Diwali
Along came Polly
To have some fun at Diwali
If you’re Indian and you love to party
Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali
That song has inspired its own covers, including a faithful recreation of Carell’s performance…
…and a Sandler-esque list of Hindu celebrities.
Another version a year later updated the song to include more famous members of the religion.
Some of these versions blur the line between parody, tribute, and cover. In previous posts, I’ve mused that there’s no hard-and-fast rule as to how close you have to stick to the source material to be a cover. Haim, Neil Diamond, and the first version by Carols for a Cure all stuck to Sandler’s lyrics. Other versions ignored those lyrics but still listed off famous people who are Jewish. But then other versions tweaked that concept so that the only unifying concept was that they were lists of famous non-Christians sung to the tune of Sandler’s original song. Do the versions of “The Diwali Song” count as covers of “The Chanukah Song,” or only as covers of Carell’s versions?
Regardless of whether these are covers or just parodies, they all stem from Sandler’s original song. And regardless of which religion the songs focus on, they all have the same effect: humorously letting subgroups of non-Christians know that they are not alone, no matter what holiday they celebrate.