For today, the prompt was simply “tree,” which might definitely imply a Christmas tree for some this time of year. My mind went immediately to the song, O Christmas Tree, not because I particularly love it, but because I think I’ve already heard it a hundred times while shopping this season. Since my style is about the details and my sketchbook is small, we have a bit of branch rather than an entire tree. This works well with the song, as it repeats the phrase “how lovely are thy branches” over and over again ad nauseum. There are other versions that don’t mention branches at all and say, “Thy leaves are so unchanging” because saying needles in a Christmas song would be weird. Some versions reintroduce the lyrics “O Tannebaum” from the original German folk song, which simply refers to a fir tree, and wasn’t meant to be a Christmas carol at all.
This is one of those songs that was very popular for kids when I was growing up, right along with Jingle Bells. The intense repetition, that drives me crazy as an adult, made it much easier for kids to learn. Of course, most of us grew up proudly thinking we could speak at least one German word and that Tannebaum meant Christmas Tree, which it doesn’t. Actually, the literal translations are rather amusing in English as you would start your song with “O Fir Tree” and end it with an awkward phrase, that you should never utter at your work Christmas party, of “Your dress wants to teach me something!” Luckily, instead of this, you’ll hear impromptu carolers in your local bar just going on and on about the branches. Mostly because nobody can ever remember all of the lyrics to this song.
The first verse of this song appeared in 1820 via August Zarnack’s Weisenbuch zu den Volksliedern fur Volkschulehn. Many think he borrowed from an ancient ode to a fir tree, as singing to fir trees has apparently been around for a very long time. The ancient version is even more perplexing in literal translation as you start by needlessly taunting the tree with, “you’re wearing a big twig!” and later show your remorse by soulfully closing with, “So, I am strong and unclean.” Though if these had been the actual lyrics, I’m sure many more people would have remembered them. Still, this song is considered a holiday classic and one you’ll find groups of people still singing today. Stumbling and mumbling past the first verse, then waiting to boldly and loudly chime back in on the only bit they know with certainty: “O Christmas Tree!, O Christmas Tree!”
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Creator of Doodlewash®, founder of World Watercolor Month (July), World Watercolor Group™, and host of the Sketching Stuff Podcast. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!