Oh Chanukah

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Oh Chanukah (also Chanukah, Oh Chanukah) is an English version of the Yiddish Oy Chanukah (Yiddish: חנוכּה אױ חנוכּה Khanike Oy Khanike‎). The English words, while not a translation, are roughly based on the Yiddish. "Oy Chanukah" is a traditional Yiddish Chanukah song. "Oh Chanukah" is a very popular modern English Chanukah song. This upbeat playful children's song has lines about dancing the Horah, Spinning Dreidels, or Shining Tops. eating latkes, lighting the candles and singing happy songs.


According to archives at the University of Pennsylvania Library, "Freedman Jewish Music Archive", alternate names the Yiddish version of song has been recorded under include "Khanike Days, "Khanike Khag Yafe", "Khanike Li Yesh", "Latke Song (Khanike Oy Khanike)", "Yemi Khanike", and "Chanike Oy Chanike."[1] Chanukah is and was sometimes written as Khanike as that was the standard transliteration from Yiddish according to the YIVO system.

Use in classical music[edit]

The Society for Jewish Folk Music in St. Petersburg published two classical compositions which make extensive use of this tune:

  • "Freylekhs" for solo piano, by Hirsch Kopyt (published in 1912 but performed as early as 1909)
  • "Dance Improvisation" for violin and piano, by Joseph Achron (published in 1914, composed December 1914 in Kharkov)

There is no formal connection between Achron's work and Kopyt's, except for the shared tune. According to the musicologist Paula Eisenstein Baker, who published the first critical edition of Leo Zeitlin's chamber music (2008), Zeitlin wrote an orchestral version of Kopyt's piano piece sometime before June 13, 1913 (Zeitlin conducted it four times that summer) and later included this orchestral version in his overture "Palestina." Joachim Stutschewsky elaborated on Kopyt's piece in a work for cello and piano called "Freylekhs: Improvisation" (1934).

The works by Kopyt, Achron, and Stutschewsky share two distinct melodies: the one that later became "Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah" and an arpeggiated tune. In all three pieces, this arpeggiated melody comes first, followed by "Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah." However, both tunes are written together as one single melody at the top of Achron's score, and the structure of these compositions suggest that the two melodies were in fact a single one. The arpeggiated tune does not feel introductory, and it returns several times throughout Achron's work. If they were one tune and not two, then we have an interesting question: Why did only half the tune get lyrics?


English version Yiddish version Yiddish transliteration Yiddish literal translation

(Oh), Hanukah, Oh Hanukah
Come light the menorah
Let's have a party
We'll all dance the horah
Gather 'round the table, we'll give you a treat
Dreidels (or "sevivon") to play with, and latkes (or "levivot") to eat

חנוכה אוי חנוכה
אַ יום-טוב אַ שיינער
אַ לוסטיקער אַ פריילעכער
נישט דאָ נאָך אַזוינער
אַלע נאַכט מיט דריידלעך שפילן מיר,
פרישע הייסע לאַטקעס, עסן אָן אַ שיעור.

(Oy), Chanukah oy Chanukah
A yontif a sheyner,
A lustiker a freylekher
Nisht do nokh azoyner
Ale nakht mit dreydlech shpiln mir,
Frishe heyse latkes, esn on a shir.

(Oh), Chanukah, Oh Chanukah
A beautiful celebration.
Such a cheerful and happy one,
There is none like it.
Every night with the dreidels we will play,
Fresh, hot latkes we will eat endlessly.

And while we are playing
The candles are burning bright (or low[2])
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years (or days) long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years (or days) long ago.

געשווינדער, צינדט קינדער
די חנוכה ליכטלעך אָן,
זאָגט על-הניסים, לויבט גאָט פאַר די נסים,
און לאָמיר אַלע טאַנצען אין קאָן.
זאָגט על-הניסים, לויבט גאָט פאַר די נסים,
און לאָמיר אַלע טאַנצען אין קאָן.

Geshvinder, tsindt kinder
Di Chanukah likhtlech on,
Zogt "Al Hanisim", loybt Got far di nisim,
Un lomir ale tantsen in kon.
Zogt "Al Hanisim", loybt Got far di nisim,
Un lomir ale tantsen in kon.

Come quickly children
Light the Chanukah candles
Say "Al Hanissim", praise God for the miracles,
And we will all dance together in a circle!
Say "Al Hanissim", praise God for the miracles,
And we will all dance together in a circle!

Alternate Yiddish versions and pronunciations[edit]

A very common Yiddish version of the song is below with alternate words, lines, verses, or pronunciations on the right. The bolded words are what is changed. The "(x2)" in the bottom left indicated that part is repeated.

A common version Alternate words Alternate pronunciations (see Yiddish regional dialects)
Oy Chanukah, Oy Chanukah a yontif a sheyner,
  • Sometimes the first "Oy" is omitted, which it also is sometimes done in English versions.
A lustiker; a freylekher; nisht do nokh azeyner. A lustiker; a freylikher; nito nokh azoyner.
  • "Azeyner" is sometimes pronounced "azoyner," esp. in standard Yiddish.
  • "Nisht do" and "nito" are dialectic variants.
Ale nakht in dreydlekh, Ale nakht mit dreydlekh,
  • Dialectical variant.
Shpiln mir, frishe heyse latkes, esn on a shir. Shpiln mir, zudik heyse latkes, esn on a shir.
  • "Zudik" means "boiling hot."
Shpiln mir, frishe heyse latkes, est on a shir.
  • "Est" is the imperative form.
Geshvinder, tsindt kinder,

Di Chanukah likhtlekh on,

Geshvinder, tsindt kinder,

Di dininke likhtlekh on,

Kumt kinder, geshvinder,

Di Chanukah likhtlekh veln mir ontsindn,

  • Syntactic rearrangement.
Alternate verses
(x2) Zingt "Al Hanisim",

Zol yeder bazunder
Bazingen dem vunder
Un tantsen freylekh in kon.

Mir zingen "Al Hanisim"
Un danken far di nisim, Mir danken far di nisim,
Tantsen far di nisim
Un kumt gikher tantsen in kohn. Lomir ale tantsen tsuzamen.

Hebrew version[edit]

There is also a Hebrew version (ימי החנוכה), which has the same melody, its words penned by Avraham Avronin.[3] The words correspond roughly to the original (more so than the English version), with slight variations for rhyme and rhythm’s sake. Thus The first line names the holiday; the second calls for joy and happiness (using two synonyms); in the third the speakers say they'll spin dreidels all night; in the fourth they will eat latkes (note that sufganiyot (סופגניות) could also mean latkes in early Modern-Hebrew); in the fifth the speaker calls everyone to light the Chanukah candles; the sixth mentions the prayer Al Hanissim, "On the miracles". The only big change is in the last line - whereas the original calls to praise God for the miracles he performed, the Hebrew one praises the miracles and wonders performed by the Maccabees. This reflects the anti-religious polemic of early Zionism, evident in many other Israeli Chanukah songs. In Israel, it’s still a very popular song, but since the country has a rich inventory of Chanukah songs it is not as exclusively popular as the English version in English speaking countries, or the Yiddish version in the past.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ University of Pennsylvania "OY CHANUKAH"
  2. ^ BBYO Chanukah Archived 2007-05-26 at the Wayback Machine - BBYO
  3. ^ "ימי החנוכה/"Yemei HaChanukkah" (Hebrew)". Zemereshet. Retrieved 12 June 2014.

External links[edit]

  • YouTube Video - Young boy singing "Oy Chanukah" (the Yiddish version)