'O Tannenbaum' ('O Christmas Tree') Lyrics in German and English

This Christmas classic dates way back

boys decorating Christmas tree
SolStock/Getty Images

Tannenbaum is a fir tree (die Tanne) or Christmas tree (der Weihnachtsbaum). Although most Christmas trees today are Fichten (spruce) rather than Tannen, the qualities of the evergreen have inspired musicians to write several Tannenbaum songs in German over the years.

The first known Tannenbaum song lyrics date back to 1550. A similar 1615 song by Melchior Franck goes: “Ach Tannebaum, ach Tannebaum, du bist ein edler Zweig!

Du grünest uns den Winter, die lieben Sommerzeit.” 

Surprising fact: In the 1800s, composer Joachim Zarnack wrote his own song inspired by the folk song. His version used the "true" leaves of the tree as a contrast to his sad tune about an untrue lover.

The best known version of a Tannenbaum song was penned in 1824 by a Leipzig organist named Ernst Anschütz. His song doesn't specifically refer to a Christmas tree that is decorated for the holiday with ornaments and a star. It sings of the green fir tree, as more of a symbol of the season. Anschütz left the reference to a true tree in his song, and that adjective dates back to the faithless lover Zarnack sung about. 

The Song Today

Today, the old song is a common Christmas carol that is sung far beyond Germany. It's common to hear it sung in the United States, even among people who don't speak German. 

More About Anschütz

Anschütz played the organ and was a teacher, poet and composer.

His full name was Ernst Gebhard Salomon Anschütz.

The Lyrics and Translation

The English version here is a literal translation, not the traditional English lyrics for the song. There are at least a dozen other versions of this carol. The traditional melody of “O Tannenbaum” has also found use in non-Christmas songs.

Four U.S. states (Iowa, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey) have borrowed the melody for their state song. 

Deutsch
Tannenbaum
TEXT: Ernst Anschütz, 1824
MELODIE: Volksweise (traditional)

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter.
Du grünst nicht nur
  zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter.

* More modern versions of this song have changed "treu" (true) to gruen (green). 

English
O Christmas Tree
Literal English translation - HF
Traditional melody

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles.
You're green not only
  in the summertime,
No, also in winter when it snows.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree
How loyal are your leaves/needles.