O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Not only green in summer’s heat,
But also winter’s snow and sleet.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.
Each year you bring to us delight
With brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely.


It’s beginning to look a lot like… celebration time for some of the Abrahamic religions, Christmas being the observance I grew up surrounded by…

Now for the past few years, each December I’ve taken on the task of learning a finger-picking guitar version of a Christmas song or carol, and publishing my meagre efforts here on the MOTF.

Last year I added slightly countrified versions of Christmas For Cowboys and Silent Night to my repertoire, the year before it was Greensleeves (What Child Is This), and the year prior, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas… you get the idea.

This year I’ve been working on another, O Christmas Tree, whose secular, modern lyrics entitled O Tannenbaum were written in 1824 by the Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz.

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!

I have a deep affection for Christmas music in general (Boney M versions excepted!), and the season gives me the push I need to hone my guitar skills while finding a musical piece that brings me inner satisfaction and yes… peace.

However, the results of my efforts this year haven’t been coming along as smoothly as I had hoped, and I’m not prepared to share the imperfect recordings I’ve been able to manage so far… but…

… you know that there’s usually a but in my posts, yes? Well, here it is…

My BUT today is that in place of the music recording I’d intended, I’d like to share a bit of the story behind the making of the song O Tannenbaum, translated from German into the English version most of us know today as O Christmas Tree.

Alrighty then, let’s dig in…


The Year: 1820. The Place: What we know today as Germany.

Ludvig van Beethoven was studiously hard at work on his last 3 sonatas, with only 7 years remaining before his death.

At the same time, a love song, “O Tannenbaum“, was written by August Zarnack (1777-1827), teacher and director of the Potsdam military orphanage.

Tannenbaum is literally translated into English as Fir Tree.

At the beginning of Zarnack’s song, which is designed as a man’s lament for love, the fir tree is invoked as a symbol of fidelity, which stands in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the “girl” he mentions in the second stanza.

Zarnack continued an older tradition of drawing the melody from earlier folk songs which had been published in Munich in 1642 in which the fir tree symbolically stood for fidelity due to its evergreen needles. The song? “O Dannenbaum/O Dannenbaum”

In 1824, Leipzig teacher Ernst Anschütz (1780-1861) issued his “Musikalisches Schulgesangbuch” a rewriting of Zarnack’s Dannenbaum song that was more adapted to children’s mouths: he re-shaped the love song – while retaining the first verse – into a Christmas carol. Yes, it began as a second-hand song… combine, mix, blend. Idea Sex was alive even then!

Anschütz (below) based his poetic text on a 16th-century Silesian folk song by Melchior Franck, “Ach Tannenbaum“.

Ernst Anschütz


This is probably the first known song that creates a connection between the Christmas tree and Christmas.

With the development of middle-class Christmas traditions, the custom of the decorated Christmas tree found its way into living rooms of the 19th century, and the song came to be seen as a Christmas carol.

The modified beginning of the song “O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, How lovely are your branches!” that is common today wasn’t yet documented in the 19th century, but became increasingly used.

Anschütz’s version still had treu (true, faithful) as the adjective describing the fir’s leaves (needles), harking back to the contrast to the faithless maiden of the folk song. This was changed to grün (green) at some point in the 20th century, after the song had come to be associated with Christmas.

Both the love song and the Christmas carol continued on through the 1800’s although the reception history of the two Tannenbaum songs was different.

Up to the First World War, Zarnack’s love song was more common than the Anschütz Christmas carol version in books of folk songs, a trend that quickly reversed.

Following the Second World War, the song with Zarnack’s text was only published sporadically, while the Anschütz Christmas carol then experienced its widest distribution, which continues to this day.

The O Christmas Tree melody was also adapted internationally.

The poem “Maryland, My Maryland”, written by James Ryder Randall (1839-1908) in April 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War, was published a short time later in a setting by the German-born Charles W. A. Ellerbrock as a piano-accompanied song. In 1939, “Maryland, My Maryland” became the official “state song” of the US state of Maryland. Today, 4 U.S. States use the melody of O Tannenbaum for their official state songs.

In 1889 in London, Jim Connell (1852–1929) wrote the workers’ song “The Red Flag“, which, with its Christmas tree melody, became one of the most well-known anthems of the international workers’ movement in the 20th century.

In tandem with these melody adaptations, the Christmas carol itself was recorded in translated form in many countries. There are several different English versions – such as “O Christmas Tree” (1926) by H. Brueckner – and a French version called “Mon Beau Sapin“.

The song is also appreciated in its original German language in some countries. In a more recent Japanese songbook, the German Christmas carol is even reproduced in a phonetic transcription.

O Tannenbaum also enjoys popularity in Canada and the US, where in autumn 2001 it was parodied as “O Taliban” against President HW Bush and distributed on the Internet.

Numerous German-language song parodies/propagandas are documented for the 20th century. Among the flood of war songs published between 1914 and 1918 there is “Hindenburglied” (“O Hindenburg! O Hindenburg! How beautiful are your victories!”) to the Christmas tree melody.

To no one’s surprise, the advertising industry has also taken advantage of the high level of awareness of the Christmas carol. Look to Walmart with Celine Dion or Corona beer‘s use of the music for its O TannenPalm commercial…

Yes, Celine and Corona lend a great modern holiday twist that Ernst Anschütz could have only dreamed of in 1824 when he penned his iconic tune… Beethoven would be so jealous, especially since his picture was never on a bubblegum card (Good grief, Charlie Brown…)!

O Fir (Goodness Sakes) Tree