On Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song – ‘Different can be a good thing’
Twenty-five years ago this month, Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song debuted on Saturday Night Live. And, in his first lines, he spoke to so many children who often feel left out this time of year.
“There’s a lot of Christmas songs out there and uhh not too many Hanukkah songs,” the then-28-year-old Sandler said. “So uhh I wrote a song for all those nice little Jewish kids who don’t get to hear any Chanukah songs. Here we go!”
With lines like “Hanukkah is The Festival of Lights. Instead of one day of presents. We have eight crazy nights!” the song helped bolster the Jewish holiday, and those who celebrate it.
United by differences
Ellyn Miller, a Jewish mother of two living outside of Washington, DC, said she’s always considered what could be seen as the Hanukkah-Christmas divide, as a chance to teach the younger generation to value our differences.
Since her daughter and son first enrolled in kindergarten, Ellyn requested permission to visit the classroom to offer a mini lesson on Hannukah and what the holiday means to Jewish families.
She always starts by asking a few questions.
“I ask them, who in here celebrates Christmas? Of you kids, who celebrates on Christmas Eve? Christmas day? Who here has a stocking? How about something else, maybe shoes? Who doesn’t celebrate Christmas? What other holidays do you celebrate?”
“So they all start talking about their differences and really getting into it. They start to see that even within the same religion, there’s differences. And different can be a good thing. Then they get interested.”
She brings in potato latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), dreidels, a menorah and tells the kids what each of the items represents. The deep-fried latkes and doughnuts symbolize the miracle of the burning oil lamps in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
There are a number of different explanations behind the dreidel, but the most common legend says that, during the time of the Maccabees, when Jewish children were forbidden from studying Torah, they would study anyway. When a Greek official would come close, they would put away their books and take out spinning tops, claiming they were just playing games.
The menorah commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem, where, as the legend goes, Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple, they found only enough oil to light a lantern for one day, but the lantern blazed for eight full days.
Ellen shares her family’s tradition of setting up menorahs all over the house, and each of her kids would get to pick their own menorah to light throughout Hanukkah. She tells the class that on the first of Hanukkah’s eight nights, only two candles are placed in the menorah: the shammash, or “helper” candle, and another candle. Each night, another candle is added so that on the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, nine candles (the shammash plus eight others) are lit. The shammash candle is always the first one lit and is used to light the others.
Once the class has heard about all the elements of Hanukkah, from the candles to the food and games, Ellyn reads the class a book called “The Only One Club,” a story of a Jewish girl who feels out of place so she starts a club just for those who are “the only one” at something. She quickly learns that each of her classmates are the only one at something—the only one with red hair, the only one with a pet lizard.
United by differences
This time of year always seems to put a spotlight on religious differences, but Ellyn said she’s always seen it as an opportunity to teach people about Judaism and help them recognize the uniqueness in each of us.
“If I can teach them that different is not bad, that different can be good, that really brings a kind of unity instead of division. We teach them tolerance and encourage them to ask questions, but kind questions.”
And Ellyn always ends each lesson with a bit of fun, when she plays the song “Candlelight,” by the Macabeats, a twist on Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”
As the Macabeats sing it, “I flip my latkes in the air sometimes sayin ayy ohh spin the dreidel. Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights singin ayy oh, light the candles.”
Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song as performed on SNL
Related: 5 Things to Know About Kwanzaa