One of my dad’s favorite Christmas carols, and one that all of us probably associate with Charlie Brown, actually came into the world having absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, the German folksong, O Tannenbaum, was originally written to compare the faithful evergreen fir tree, which is what tannenbaum means, to an unfaithful lover. And yet, a teacher and organist named Ernst Anschutz from Leipzig took that well-known tune and transformed it into the early versions of what we know today in 1824.
What Anschutz was describing, however, had nothing in particular to do with Christmas. Instead, he was drawing his singers attention to the fir tree’s use as a symbol of steadfast faithfulness. Loosely translated, the final verse of his early song read, O Tannenbaum, you bear a joyful message: that faith and hope shall ever bloom to bring us light in winter’s gloom… As has been the case from the ancients through to modern day, the steadfast nature of trees, particularly evergreens remind us of the eternal.
Unsurprisingly, it took less than fifty years for Christians to pick up this song, add some verses, and officially make it a Christmas carol. For us, there is nothing more steadfast or eternal than our faithful God who became flesh on Christmas. And as I sit here gazing at my tree lit up in our quiet house this night, it reminds me of the light coming into the world, more powerful than anything else.
Of all the editions and renditions that have existed over the last two hundred years, there is a line in a verse that really sticks with me every time I hear it: Your bright green leaves with festive cheer, give hope and strength throughout the year. Because Christmas is not just meant to last for one day. Or twelve days. Or even one or two months. Its spirit is meant to guide us the whole year through.