(access to lesson material will require a FREE membership)
“O Christmas Tree” (German) (a.k.a. “O Tannenbaum”) is a German Christmas carol whose earliest lyrics date back to the mid-16th Century. The melody is a traditional German folk melody whose origin is unknown, but the most popular lyrics come from a 19th Century composition by Ernst Anschütz.
Lyrics for “O Christmas Tree”
The lyrics for “O Christmas Tree,” of course, pay tribute to the Christmas tree, which is a tradition adapted from pagan ritual. For this reason, the Nazis promoted the song in an attempt to de-Christianize the winter holidays, as it doesn’t actually mention Christmas or the birth of Christ. There are a number of very loose English translations, which honor the beauty of a fir tree.
The Christmas Story of the hymn “O Christmas Tree”
Thousands or years ago, there were people who believed that evergreen trees were magical. Even in winter, when all the other trees and greenery were brown and bare, the evergreen stayed strong and green. People saw the evergreen as a symbol of life and as a sure sign that sunshine and spring would soon return.
Candles, or the electric lights we use to decorate our trees today, are also an ancient symbol. They represent the light of spring triumphing over the darkness of winter. In ancient Rome, people decorated their homes and their temples with greenery during a special December feast. It was a happy time. No battles could be fought, the schools were closed, and people everywhere joined in the carnival-like atmosphere and gave each other presents.
Legend has it that the tradition of having a tree in one’s home began by Martin Luther in Germany. He was a monk and church reformer who lived from 1483 to 1546. According to the legend, Luther was returning home one wintry night when he saw the stars twinkling in the sky through the tree branches. Luther was amazed by the sight, and when he arrived home, he was eager to tell his family about it. To help them understand, he went to the woods and cut down a small fir tree. Luther brought it indoors and decorated it with candles, which represented the stars he had seen.
The custom spread in Germany, and from there all over the world. In England, the Christmas tree first appeared when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, who was German. In 1841, Albert set up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle near London to remind him of his homeland. The Christmas tree custom was brought to the United States by people from England as well as by many German immigrants who came in the 1800’s. Whatever its origin, the Christmas tree is a beautiful symbol for everyone who celebrates Christmas.