O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum

For many Americans, the excitement of their Christmas tree is probably old news since so many trees are put up during Thanksgiving weekend. This is not the case for everyone, so on this Friday before Christmas we celebrate the centuries old tradition of the Tannenbaum.

‘Tannenbaum’ is German for fir tree. The German tradition is thought to have begun around the time of Martin Luther or just after–in the mid-1500s. The use of evergreen boughs is an even older tradition as they are connected to certain religions and symbolize everlasting life. Somewhere along the way, boughs became a whole tree with candles. O Tannenbaum, the most well known version of the song, was written in 1824–many versions exist, of course, and the lyrics are older than the tune we know today. German Christmas trees still traditionally have real wax candles (other countries have transitioned to electric candles and regular ol’ string lights), this illumination can have different meanings, but my favorite is the idea that the candles are a guiding light through the darkest days of the year. Of course, real wax candles on a live, fire-starter of a tree should be used with caution–especially if it’s been in the house since November.

Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany

For Americans, then, the tradition of a Christmas tree began to spread once Germans emigrated to the country, and, as we are a melting pot of ideas, traditions vary between regions and families depending upon their backgrounds. Now, Christmas tree farming is an industry making more than a billion dollars each year. Every state in the country produces Christmas trees, but Michigan is one of the top three states growing and supplying trees. Missaukee County’s own Dutchman Tree Farm is one of the top Christmas tree producers in the eastern part of the country and part of the MAEAP program through the Conservation District! While we are on the subject, here are a few more connections Christmas trees have with the Conservation District:

  • Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource whereas artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and possible metal toxins such as lead. Unfortunately, some people are allergic to conifers and don’t really have a choice.
  • Artificial trees cannot be recycled once they out live their “freshness;” many communities offer real tree recycling after Christmas…or you could have a New Year’s bonfire which would be a little like the Yule Log tradition.
  • You can grow your own Christmas tree! Two kinds of fir trees (the real Tannenbaum) and one type of spruce (not Tannen, but Fichten) are offered through our tree sale. It takes an average of 7 years for a Christmas tree to grow to 6-7 feet, so it won’t be ready next year.
  • And of course, trees are always needed for clean air and water, and beneficial to many types of wildlife.

Still not sure about having a real tree? This year, December was declared Michigan Christmas Tree Month, in our area it’s a local commodity (80% of artificial trees are manufactured in China), and you can usually find a place to cut them yourself and make a real family memory just like the Griswolds.

Check out this video about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.


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