From Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” some of the most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews.
Now, singer-songwriter Yossi Desser has converted them to Yiddish-language songs about Chanukah, on a just-released album called “Yiddish Chanukah Carols.”
Songs about chestnuts roasting on an open fire become songs about latkes — well, latkes doing more than my meager Yiddish language skills can decode on deadline.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — the bittersweet song premiered during World War II in the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis” — the screenwriter Irving Brecher was Jewish, though the songsmiths don’t seem to have been — becomes “Frelichen Chanukah.” “White Christmas” becomes “Veiss Chanukah.”
Videos of Desser’s other work show him playing a singer-songwriter’s guitar, but don’t worry: The songs on this album have the full orchestration you hear on classic Christmas albums and Yuletide mall soundtracks.
As Desser tells it on his website, the origins of the album are simple: “Once, while lighting the menorah on a white and snowy Chanukah evening, I felt compelled to take these compositions which were written for the general public and put it to the Yiddish lexicon. Being there is a scarcity of Chanukah songs in Yiddish I decided to record it.”
Look for it on Spotify and wherever digital music is sold.