"O Christmas Tree (O Tannenbaum)" - Ernst Anschütz

History of an American folk song

Christmas wreath
Christmas wreath. photo: Getty Images

"O Christmas Tree" (a.k.a. "O Tannenbaum") is a German Christmas carol whose earliest lyrics date back to the mid-16th Century. The melody is a traditional German folk melody whose origin is unknown, but the most popular lyrics come from a 19th Century composition by Ernst Anschütz.

Lyrics for "O Christmas Tree"

The lyrics for "O Christmas Tree," of course, pay tribute to the Christmas tree, which is a tradition adapted from pagan ritual.
For this reason, the Nazis promoted the song in an attempt to de-Christianize the winter holidays, as it doesn't actually mention Christmas or the birth of Christ.

There are a number of very loose English translations, which honor the beauty of a fir tree. There are three lines that change with each verse, sung after the refrain of "O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree." In one of the English translations, the first verse is:

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.
O, Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!

Read the full lyrics in German with an English translation, or purchase/download Rhonda Vincent's bluegrass version of this classic carol.