O Tannenbaum

The weather though tolerable today was nonetheless evocative of coming wintry conditions. Primarily for the exercise – but also as an undaunted way to distance myself from defeat at the hands of looming disruption – I tricycled 6.89 Km about the neighbourhood. The roads were clear except for remnants of snow plowed onto the side adjacent the sidewalk. As I passed along the river I easily saw to the other side. The obstructions of summer and autumn have vanished. A not unpleasant starkness has overtaken the landscape. It is a verancular to which I must readjust.  Though as I am wont to advance whenever asked, I am not in the least dispairing about the predictions. It has inspired collateral moments of reflection regarding the extent and necessity of isolation from one’s Northern sphere.

O Tannenbaum” (German: “O fir tree”), known in English as “O Christmas Tree“, is a German Christmas song. Based on a traditional folk song which was unrelated to Christmas, it became associated with the traditional Christmas tree.

The modern lyrics were written in 1824 by the Leipzig organist, teacher and composer Ernst Anschütz. A Tannenbaum is a fir tree. The lyrics do not actually refer to Christmas, or describe a decorated Christmas tree. Instead, they refer to the fir’s evergreen quality as a symbol of constancy and faithfulness.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
How faithfully you blossom!
Through summer’s heat and winter’s chill
Your leaves are green and blooming still.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
How faithfully you blossom!

Steadfastness is increasingly for me of value. Today I telephoned a longstanding friend on his birthday. We calculated that we go back 43 years. Our relationship though happily long-lasting hasn’t always been one unmingled with disagreement. For the record I count it as a mark of achievement that friends have differences. Certainly every relationship of friendship in my life has endured controversy of some description and depth. But my friendship with this friend, as with all those whom I count among my friends, is notable for its predominance of happy regularities.  We’ve traveled together, dined together, drunk together, socialized together and shared common acquaintances – oddy enough characteristics which apply as well to each of my other friends. It is perhaps this broad variety of encounters which strengthens a friendship. Nor is this a small compliment; being enduring and unchanging are traits more often countered by fickleness, indecision and unpredicatableness.

I mention fidelity and dependability in connection with O Tannenbaum because,

Anschütz based his text on a 16th-century Silesian folk song by Melchior Franck, “Ach Tannenbaum“. August Zarnack in 1819 wrote a tragic love song inspired by this folk song, taking the evergreen, “faithful” fir tree as contrasting with a faithless lover.

The theme of loyalty and staunchness is particularly important to me as my age progresses precipitiously close to the edge.  As I said to my friend, I count my friends on one hand.  Having lived in the same place for the past half-century it is not unexpected that but two of my friends live elsewhere. With few exceptions maintaining an authentic friendship over long distance is to my mind more legendary than contemporary.

The other reason for attaching to O Tannenbaum is the gathering proximity to the Yuletide.  It is like herding cats for me to ignore the persuasive elements of the season. Only yesterday a close friend remarked that she is already preparing to decorate her quaint Island home. She it is whom for several years I visited at this time of year to read aloud Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (1952).  Indeed I cannot think of a more inspiring tale except perhaps Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (1843).

In modern use, the word Yuletide is occasionally invoked as a synonym for Christmas. Yuletide is the much older of the two words; its first half, yule, derives from an Old English noun geōl. Both geōl and its etymological cousin from Old Norse (jōl) referred to a midwinter pagan festival that took place in December.

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town cornernow and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”