O Tannenbaum!


“ O Christmas Tree O, Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us.
They’re green when summer days are bright;
They’re green when winter snow is white.”

Vancouver’s Christmas tree, from what I witnessed when it was being assembled in the Vancouver Art gallery plaza a few days ago,  is a masterful piece of engineering.  The cranes were in place, and the sidewalk was blocked off from pedestrians.  An attentive ground crew, along with two brave men high above the ground, worked together to secure the placement of the branches. There was even a brisk chill in the sunshine of a Vancouver afternoon that gave a nod to winter with the possibility of snow for Christmas.

December is fast approaching, the month that heralds the upcoming holiday festivities with the promise of gingerbread cookies, eggnog, and gathering of families and friends. The  music that came to me as I watched the evolving tree transformation was “O Tannenbaum.”

To be clear, Tannenbaum is a fir tree, not a Christmas tree, nor does the original lyrics refer to Christmas.   It has an old and ancient history – that is, if you consider the Renaissance to be ancient.  This is the story of how O Tannenbaum came to be a Christmas carol:

It all began with the German composer Melchior Franck, (1579 – 1639), who was both an influential and prolific composer during the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras.  One of his compositions was a Silesian folk song, “Ach Tannenbaum.”  Silesia, as I found out in a Google search,  is a historical region of Central Europe which is located mainly in present-day Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic.

Fast forward to Joachim August Christian Zarnack, (1777 – 1827) a German preacher, teacher and – here is the important part – a collector of German folk music.  In 1819, he transformed Melchior Franck’s composition into a tragic and heartbreaking love song,  using the symbolism of a faithful and loyal fir tree in sharp contrast to the unfaithful lover.

A few short years later in 1824, Ernst Anschütz, a Leipzig organist, teacher and composer decided to add his creative touch by including two verses of his own, still keeping to the theme of the fir tree being true and faithful.   Somewhere along the way,  the word “grün” (green) was added to the lyrics.

How did “O Tannenbaum” become “O Christmas Tree.” No one knows for certain how it all happened.  It just did.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it transitioned into a new role of becoming a beloved Christmas Carol.


Maybe it was the magic of this holiday season.  Or… maybe a song takes on a life of its own.

O Tannenbaum, Vancouver Art Gallery from Rebecca Budd aka Clanmother on Vimeo.

32 thoughts on “O Tannenbaum!

    • Smiles on my side too!! That is fabulous! I love that symbolism!!! In a few weeks, a menorah will be situated a few yards away from the Christmas Tree. It is a wonderful sight to see them together. I’ll be watching for the unfolding story. Stay tuned….

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I’ll bet your Vancouver tree must be breathtaking at night!

    For some reason, my brother was very taken with singing “O, Christmas Tree,’ when he was little, perhaps because we always ended up with a Charlie Brown tree?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought of your especially when I found out that this tradition appeared of its own accord. Fir tree to Christmas Tree all from a folk story that has nothing to do with Christmas. Do songs, books, poetry have destinies? Oh I am looking forward to sharing Christmas traditions and rituals with you! Hugs!!!!

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    • Thank you so much! I am looking forward to sharing this special time of the year with you and Carina. “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” Washington Irving

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  2. You have got a nice discovery, dear Rebecca, I know this song when I came to Germany in 1985 by my first visit to the Xmas ceremony here; (Weihnachten). It’s very interesting to know that this song hasn’t been made for Xmas 😉 but I think that it might be taken because of the evergreen tree 😀 ❤ have a nice holiday dear ❤

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  3. The stories behind our Christmas carols are fascinating. And it’s lovely that our traditional songs evolve to meet our current circumstances. This fabulous tree has evolved from a traditional Christmas tree. Is the greenery real? I am trying to understand how the frame is decorated to create such a magical Christmas tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Is the greenery real? A very very good question – one that I immediately checked out myself. It is the tallest purpose-designed, artificial Christmas Tree in B.C. It first came out in 2017, at 75 feet – it’s 80 feet if you include the star at the top. From what I could see, the tree is made up of square plates that hold the greenery, which are somehow connected to the main frame. The older 50 foot tree was retired after many years of giving joy. Traditions and rituals seem to have a life of their own.

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  4. Rebecca, every time I hear this song it is in the German, even if sung in English or Swedish. Fascinating history behind the lyrics and wow! The tree assembly is awesome and grand! 😀 You’re all in for a treat this winter!

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    • Today is the first Day of Advent and lighting the Candle of Hope! I am looking forward the menorah that will be coming soon. Life is wonderful when there is light shining in dark places. And you are one of those brightly shining lights!

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  5. Absolutely delightful! I enjoyed the video and what a sight to behold as the men place the branches in their designed place–truly and work of engineering and art. I an looking forward to the coming festivities surrounding this famous tree. Thank you for the historical stories, truly a learning experience for me. Thank you for sharing, it meant a lot to me.

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  6. All together now : “oh Tannenbaum – oh Tannenbaum, wie gruen sind deine Blaetter” etc. etc. 🙂 🙂
    Thank you Rebecca for the nice pictures and especially the story attached to them. Reading this made me a little bit “homesick” for Germany – Snow – Gluehwein and Currywurst 🙂 Here the celebrations are slightly different but the (paper-) stars in their different colours lining streets and terraces. But instead of snow we do still have the occasional Monsoon downpour. Have a peaceful Advent time with your loved ones.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah Carina – I know the feeling of a green Christmas. We have more green leaves than white snow here in Vancouver. But you are so right about celebrations. They may be different, but they are real, and they bring us together in a spirit of generosity and hope. And speaking of hope, Advent 2019 starts today, December 1, 2019 with the Candle of Hope. Thank you for joining me in singing this wonderful song! Hugs and more hugs coming your way….

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is a big one, isn’t it? This is Western Canada’s largest Christmas tree standing at 75 feet. It is part of a fundraising event that will be support Honour House, the Vancouver Children’s Festival and the Rare Diseases Foundation at Vancouver Children’s Hospitals. So glad that you joined me…

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