...family, friends, home and other tidbits of a blessed life

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Legend of the Chris✞mas Tree

Oh Chrismas Tree

One of my most favorite Christmas memories is being at my German gramdmother's for the Chrismas holiday. It was most magical! The afternoon of Chrismas Eve, we were not allowed into the living room. It had to be empty of children with the door closed so that when the Christkind came through, there was nothing to disturb the decorating of the tree and the leaving of presents.  
We had to wait until we heard the tinkle of a little bell that the Christkind would ring when the task was finished.To walk into the living room after hearing the little bell was as if you were walking into into a dream come true. The candles would be lit on the tree (o yes.. they did that on Chrismas Eve), fresh cookies under the tree, and beautifully wrapped presents!
Das Christkind

The origin of the Christmas tree is obscured by uncertainties of oral histories of pre-literate European cultures. For example, according to Christian lore, the Christmas tree is associated with St Boniface and the German town of Geismar. Sometime in St Boniface's lifetime (c. 672-754) he cut down the tree of Thor in order to disprove the legitimacy of the Norse gods to the local German tribe. St. Boniface saw a fir tree growing in the roots of the old oak. Taking this as a sign of the Christian faith, he said "...let Christ be at the center of your households..." using the fir tree as a symbol of Christianity.

The tradition of the Christmas tree as it is today known is fairly young. It was established by Martin Luther as a Protestant counterpart to the Catholic Nativity scene. Luther established the Christmas tree as a symbol of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

The custom of erecting a Christmas Tree can be historically traced to 15th century Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) and 16th century Northern Germany. According to the first documented uses of a Christmas tree in Estonia, in 1441, 1442, and 1514 the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected a tree for the holidays in their brotherhood house in Reval (now Tallinn). At the last night of the celebrations leading up to the holidays, the tree was taken to the Town Hall Square where the members of the brotherhood danced around it. In 1584, the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. In that period, the guilds started erecting Christmas trees in front of their guildhalls: Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) found a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small tree was decorated with "apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers" and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas Day.


O 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!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Dein Kleid will mich
  was lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Trost und Kraft
  zu jeder Zeit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Das soll dein Kleid
  mich lehren. 

 A 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 best known version (above) was penned in 1824 by a Leipzig organist named Ernst Anschütz. The melody is an old folk tune. The first known “Tannenbaum” song lyrics date back to 1550. A similar 1615 song by Melchior Franck (1573-1639) goes: “Ach Tannebaum, ach Tannebaum, du bist ein edler Zweig! Du grünest uns den Winter, die lieben Sommerzeit.” - The English version above is a literal translation by your Guide, not the traditional English lyrics for the song. There are at least a dozen English versions of this carol.


Tanya@takesix said...

I really enjoy reading the history of traditions and your post was especially interesting with your first hand account of Christmas in Germany! Thank you so much!

xinex said...

What a wonderful post, Marlis. Your photos are fab!...Christine

Dovecote Decor said...

Thank you for visiting my online store and blog. I enjoyed your history of the Christmas tree and music. Good luck in our giveaway contest at Art by Karena. Spread the word.

Kuby said...

This is a beautiful post. I love reading about the origins of our Christmas traditions. Thank you and God Bless


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