O Christmas Tree!

youre-singing-history

One of the best things about being a musician during the holiday season is playing music from all over the world and with many different background stories. There are some songs that clearly belong to a particular country, but then there are others that many nations have borrowed (or stolen) to make their own…all in good cheer, of course.

Today’s featured carol is international in its history and the tune has been used for many, many songs on many different occasions. If you love Christmas trees, then today’s song might be one of your favorite holiday carols.

Christmas Trees – A Brief History

In America, Christmas Trees (or Holiday Trees, if you want to be politically correct) are popular festive symbols. Whether you bring a real or artificial one into your home or just enjoy the ones at the malls and other public places, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see a Christmas tree at some point in December.

So where did Christmas trees come from? Short answer: Germany. Way back when (think Roman Empire Era and Dark Ages), the pagan Germanic tribes worshipped certain trees and featured them in religious ceremonies by decorating their “holy” places and homes with nature.

Godey's Lady's Book, 1850, Christmas TreeWhen the Christmas tree became popular again, it left behind the pagan connotation. Decorated in German and used to display gifts, the tree idea made its way to England with Queen Victoria’s influence (1840-1850-ish). The queen’s husband – Prince Albert – was German; together they brought the Christmas tree decoration to their palace. Since the royal couple were fashionable trend setters the idea became popular.

America didn’t like to be too far behind England’s lead in fashion. Godey’s Ladies Book published an engraving of a Christmas tree decorated with candles, little ornaments, and gifts for the children. Christmas trees had become a symbol of beauty and fun, generally associated with children’s wonder in the holiday season.

A German Song (Borrowed Many Times)

The famous carol known as “O Christmas Tree” was first published in 1824, but it wasn’t about Christmas trees! The original lyrics by Ernst Anshutz used the evergreen tree to emphasize themes of constancy and faithfulness through hardships. It was loosely based on a Silesian folk song. Not until the early 20th Century did the song become associated with a traditional Christmas Tree; the lyrics have been altered through the decades.

The tune of “O Christmas Tree” is not exclusive to the holiday song. Quite a few songs use the same music including state songs for Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and Iowa. (If you’re a fan of Civil War era music, you’ll recognize the tune for “Maryland, My Maryland”…and maybe be disturbed that you remember the lacking-holiday-cheer lyrics from the 1860’s).

christmas-treeHere are the translated version of the original lyrics:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
They are green when summer days are bright,
They are green when winter snow is white.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You give us so much pleasure!
How oft at Christmas tide the sight,
O green fir tree, gives us delight!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You give us so much pleasure!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Forever true your colour.
Your boughs so green in summertime
Stay bravely green in wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Forever true your colour.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
You fill my heart with music.
Reminding me on Christmas Day
To think of you and then be gay [glad].
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
You fill my heart with music.

Enjoy The Music

 

 

 

If you decorate a Christmas tree, I hope it’s ready for the holidays now! “How lovely are those branches…”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite ornament on your tree? Or a favorite tree decorating story?

christmas-tree

 

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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