O TANNENBAUM

When sharing travel experiences with friends I have found that we all appear to have had situations when we have been emotionally stirred.  As we climbed the steeps of Mount Pilatus in Switzerland, in the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, I had one of those ‘moving moments’. I had previously seen fir trees (of course) and had previously seen snow, but to see the snow weighing down the branches of the trees was a picture I will never forget. For somebody who lives in the driest State of the driest inhabited Continent on earth, this was the reality of something I had imagined for so long.

“O Tannenbaum” is a German Christmas song. Based on a traditional folk song, it became (by the early 20th century) associated with the traditional Christmas tree and sung as a Christmas carol. Most likely, the original first verse was composed in the late 16th or 17th century in Westphalia. The modern lyrics (second and third verses) were written in 1824 by the Leipzig organist teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz (1780-1863).

(Many thanks to my Swiss/German friend for the following translation)

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Today written, ‘Oh’ and not ‘O’ as 200 years ago
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
How loyal are thy leaves
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
You’re verdant/green not only in summertime
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
But also in Winter when it snows
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
You can please me very much
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
For every year the Christmas tree
How often has not only at Christmas time
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
A tree like you given me such joy
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren:
Your dress wants to teach me something
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Your hope and durability
Gibt Mut und Kraft zu jeder Zeit!
Provide comfort and strength at any time
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
Dein Kleid will mich was lehren!
That’s what your dress should teach me

A Tannenbaum is a fir tree. The lyrics do not actually refer to Christmas, or describe a decorated Christmas tree. Instead, they refer to the fir’s evergreen qualities as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness. The Christmas tree was certainly popular in Germany and is still, not only in Germany, but all around the world. 

Legend has it that Martin Luther, the religious reformer, invented the Christmas tree. One winter’s night in 1536, so the story goes, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he suddenly looked up and saw thousands of stars glinting jewel-like among the branches of the trees. This wondrous sight inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens from whence their Saviour came.

When travelling through Germany prior to Christmas 2013 we saw trees being erected in towns and cities.


A verse from one English Version –

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!
Thou bidds’t us all place faithfully our trust in God, unchangingly!
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How sturdy God hath made thee!

 

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