Victorians–O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

The story is told that on one Christmas eve, 16th century monk, Martin Luther was walking through the forest.  As he gazed into the night sky at the dazzling stars he noticed that it appeared as if some of the stars were sitting at the tops of the trees and the light of the stars caused the snow covered branches to glisten.  He was so filled with wonder that he decided to bring a tree home to his family and he placed candles on its branches to shine like the stars.  Thus, the decorated Christmas tree became a German tradition.

When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert he bought this German tradition with him.  In 1850, an American magazine showed a picture of the royal family gathered around a candle-lit tree.  People began to imitate and soon Christmas trees were found in many homes.  Families placed the tree  on a small table in their parlour (formal reception room).

At first, trees were decorated with fruits, pine cones, nuts and home made gifts such as hand-sewn dolls, mittens, toys and sugar cookies.  Garland was a string of popcorn and berries.  Candles were placed on the branches and lit.  A star was placed on top in remembrance of the magi who followed the star that led them to Jesus. As time went on, trees began to have more elaborate decorations such as doll-size furniture and musical instruments, toys, fans, purses and books.

Image from Victorian Christmas

Image from Victorian Christmas

People began buying store-bought ornaments such as dresdens (made of cardboard but painted to look like glass or metal), glass balls, candy canes and cornucopias filled with sweets.

Original pic source no longer available

Another tradition was to collect scraps  or colourful cardboard cut-outs of angels, children and Santas.

Gingerbread in the shapes of hearts, stars, trees and men were also used to decorate the tree.

The composer Ernst Anschütz wrote the modern lyrics of the song ‘O Tannenbaum’.  The song was based on the Silesian folk song ‘Ach Tannenbaum’.  It didn’t have anything to do with Christmas.  A tannenbaum is a fir tree and the song contrasted the faithfulness of the fir tree to those of his unfaithful lover. Anschütz added two verses which he wrote to the first original verse written by Joachim August Zarnack. There are now a few English versions of this song.  Here is one of them:

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!
They are green when summer days are bright,
They are green when winter snow is white.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your branches green delight us!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You give us so much pleasure!
How oft at Christmas tide the sight,
O green fir tree, gives us delight!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
You give us so much pleasure!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Forever true your colour.
Your boughs so green in summertime
Stay bravely green in wintertime.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
Forever true your colour.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
You fill my heart with music.
Reminding me on Christmas Day
To think of you and then be gay.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree
You fill my heart with music.

How You Can Decorate Your Tree Like The Victorians:

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4 thoughts on “Victorians–O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

  1. Pingback: O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum (a Mom’s Memories post) | It's Not All Bad...

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