The melody for this song has roots so ancient they are largely forgotten. A German folk song celebrating the steadfast and reliable beauty of the evergreen, the modern lyrics were written around 1824 by German organist, composer and teacher Ernst Anschütz. The tune itself has been attributed to 16th-century Silesian (now largely Poland) Melchior Franck. It was slowly incorporated into Christmas traditions over the 20th century. Evergreens, however, have been celebrated by numerous cultures and religions for thousands of years. It makes sense that several months into winter, people would want to celebrate anything that is still green!
A few years ago, I was approached by a friend to record a public-domain song for a film he was scoring. He gave me a list, and I picked O Christmas Tree, because I’d always thought it pretty. As I compiled versions and looked into the German translations, it began to mean more to me than just a pretty song I sang in December. The German lyrics give thanks for the fir tree’s joyful green, it’s steadfast presence. I realized that this song is one of hope. It is a reminder that even in the dead of winter, when light and warmth seem far away, there is a little green, true and constant, to be found.
I recorded it in my little apartment in Los Angeles, affectionately known as The Treehouse by my friends, on a sunny afternoon in June. When I hear the recording now, I can still see the light begin to fade through my windows, and the peaceful feeling it left me with.