Famous Christmas Poems in German and English

From Three of Germany's Great Poets

Many German poems celebrate the Christmas holiday. Among the best are three well-known and short verses by the great poets Rainer Marie Rilke, Anne Ritter, and Wilhelm Busch. Though they were written over a century ago, they remain favorites today.

Here you will find the original poems in German as well as the English translations. These are not necessarily literal translations as some poetic liberty was taken in a few places to retain the voice and style of the poets.

"Advent" by Rainer Marie Rilke

Rainer Marie Rilke (1875–1926) was destined for the military, but an insightful uncle pulled the Prague-born student from a military academy and set him up for a literary career. Before entering Charles University in Prague, Rilke had published his first volume of poetry entitled "Leben and Lieder" (Life and Songs).

Rilke spent years traveling around Europe, had met Tolstoy in Russia, and found lyrical poetry while in Paris. Among his best-known works were "Das Stunden Buch" (The Book of Hours, 1905) and  "Sonnets of Orpheus (1923). The prolific poet was admired by fellow artists but otherwise generally unrecognized by the public. 

"Advent" was one of Rilke's earliest poems, written in 1898.

Es treibt der Wind im Winterwalde
die Flockenherde wie ein Hirt,
und manche Tanne ahnt, wie balde
sie fromm und lichterheilig wird,
und lauscht hinaus. Den weißen Wegen
streckt sie die Zweige hin - bereit,
und wehrt dem Wind und wächst entgegen
der einen Nacht der Herrlichkeit.


English translation of "Advent"

The wind in the winter white forest
urges the snowflakes along like a shepherd,
and many a fir tree senses
how soon she holy and sacredly lighted will be,
and so listens carefully. She extends her branches
towards the white paths – ever ready,
resisting the wind and growing towards
that great night of glory.

"Vom Christkind" by Anne Ritter

Anne Ritter (1865–1921) was born Anne Nuhn in Coburg, Bavaria. Her family moved to New York City while she was still young, but she returned to Europe to attend boarding schools. Married to Rudolf Ritter in 1884, Ritter settled in Germany.

Ritter is known for her lyrical poetry and "Vom Christkind" is one of her best-known works. It is often referenced using the first line as the title, commonly translated as "I think I saw the Christ Child." It is a very popular German poem that's often recited at Christmas time.

Denkt euch, ich habe das Christkind gesehen!
Es kam aus dem Walde, das Mützchen voll Schnee, mit rotgefrorenem Näschen.
Die kleinen Hände taten ihm weh,
denn es trug einen Sack, der war gar schwer,
schleppte und polterte hinter ihm her.
Was drin war, möchtet ihr wissen?
Ihr Naseweise, ihr Schelmenpack-
denkt ihr, er wäre offen, der Sack?
Zugebunden, bis oben hin!
Doch war gewiss etwas Schönes drin!
Es roch so nach Äpfeln und Nüssen!

English translation of "From the Christ Child"

Can you believe it! I have seen the Christ child.
He came out of the forest, his hat full of snow,
With a red frosted nose.
His little hands were sore,
Because he carried a heavy sack,
That he dragged and lugged behind him,
What was inside, you want to know?
So you think the sack was open
you cheeky, mischievous bunch?
It was bound, tied at the top
But there was surely something good inside
It smelled so much like apples and nuts.

"Der Stern" by Wilhem Busch

Wilhelm Busch (1832–1908) was born in Widensahl, Hanover in Germany. Better known for his drawings, he was also a poet and combining the two led to his most famous work.

Busch is considered the "godfather of German comics." His success came after developing short and humorous drawings adorned with comedic lyrics. The famous children's series, "Max and Moritz," was his debut and is said to be the precursor to the modern comic strip. He is honored today with the ​Wilhelm Busch German Museum of Caricature & Drawing Art in Hanover.

The poem "Der Stern" remains a favorite recitation during the holiday season and has a wonderful rhythm in its original German.

Hätt` einer auch fast mehr Verstand
als wie die drei Weisen aus dem Morgenland
und ließe sich dünken, er wäre wohl nie
dem Sternlein nachgereist, wie sie;
dennoch, wenn nun das Weihnachtsfest
seine Lichtlein wonniglich scheinen läßt,
fällt auch auf sein verständig Gesicht,
er mag es merken oder nicht,
ein freundlicher Strahl
des Wundersternes von dazumal.

English Translation: "The Star"

If someone had almost more understanding
than the three Wise Men from the Orient
And actually thought that he would never have followed the star like them,
Nevertheless when the Christmas Spirit
Lets its light blissfully shine,
Thus illuminating his intelligent face,
He may notice it or not -
A friendly beam
From the miracle star of long ago.

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Bauer, Ingrid. "Famous Christmas Poems in German and English." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/german-christmas-poems-1444303. Bauer, Ingrid. (2017, August 11). Famous Christmas Poems in German and English. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/german-christmas-poems-1444303 Bauer, Ingrid. "Famous Christmas Poems in German and English." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/german-christmas-poems-1444303 (accessed September 26, 2017).