A Christmas Carol as Lovely as a Tree
The original German title of this carol is “O Tannenbaum”, a literal translation of which is the world-renown ”O ChristmasTree”. The Christmas tree tradition is stuff of folktales. The song doesn’t speak of Christmas, instead, it ennobles the fir tree as an evergreen (symbolizing faithfulness). During pagan times, the monk Boniface wanted people to realize that their dedication was rightly for the one who created trees and not for the oak trees themselves. Boniface had had it with the traditions worshipping trees that he wanted to prove his point by angrily chopping down a mature oak tree. The tree fell and destroyed whatever it found in its path. But a fir sapling survived the fall of the heavy oak tree, something Boniface leveraged as proof of a miracle. People believed him and started planting fir trees, which eventually began the tradition of bringing in fir trees hung by the branch into their homes during Christmas time. After reading that, it now makes sense why people now bedazzle Christmas trees inside homes. The ode to the fir tree dates back to about 500 years and its author is unknown.
German composer Ernst Anschutz tweaked (1824) and made it accessible by attaching to it the folk melody “Lauriger Horatius”, paving the way for the hymn to be reborn a few years after as a Christmas carol. Beginning notes are the strongest opening in tonal composition, nothing unique. In the accompaniment, the audible sustained chord provides the singers the tone. Then there’s a change in the rhythmic pattern, turning into a moody, almost tender tune. To end the hymn, it goes back to the proud notes it began with. Anschutz catapulted the stately hymn to mythical stature in Germany. “O Christmas Tree” became endlessly playable. Soon it was being sung in English and other translations around the world. Not only was it sung as a carol, “Lauriger Horatius” was itself popular because apart from “O Christmas Tree”, it’s also the tune of many songs including the British left’s anthem, and the Maryland civil war anthem.