Christmas Carols

written on 24/12/2020
by Jutta Thielen-del Pozo

Alle Jahre wieder…

Christmas is the time of the year when family and friends get into focus. Across the globe Christmas is celebrated and not only in Christian communities.

It is the celebration of a beginning, reflection, and caring for those who are dear to us. Christmas touches on our emotions and how could we express our feelings better than with music?

And how better than with Christmas carols that allow everybody to join into the choir of joy and celebration?

Most of the popular Christmas carols of today are dating back to the 18th-19th century.

The oldest German Christmas song is said to be “Sei uns willkommen Herre Christ" - "Syt willekomen Heire Kirst" that is dating back in parts to the 11th century and with a track record on the melody to the 14th century.

The earliest complete surviving version is in a manuscript from Erfurt dating to 1394.

"Alle Jahre wieder" - "Every year again" another German Christmas carol, written in 1837 by Johann Wilhelm Hey (1789–1854). The most common melody is usually attributed to Friedrich Silcher. 

Another popular German Christmas carol – do you guess? – seems to be related to the particular love of Germans to their forests and the trees: O Tannenbaum.

However, although known across the world and translated into many languages, the song was originally not at all about Christmas. It was rather a sad song about a faithful companion – the everygreen tree – as compared to the unfaithful love.

However, when Ernst Schuetz, the Kantor of  Leipzig, was looking for new songs to prepare for the Christmas celebrations  in 1824, he found the song and modulated it to what we know today – the evergreen tree as a faithful companion to our Christmas celebrations.

It took another 100 years before the song became really popular and well known in Germany.

It has now been translated into many languages and so, whether it is O Tannenbaum, O Christmas Tree or Mon beau sapin – we unite in the celebration of this wonderful tree.

But the most famous Christmas carol of German language was born in Austria.  

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht was composed in 1818 by primary school teacher Franz Xaver Gruber to the lyrics of Joseph Mohr, the catholic priest in the town of Oberndorf near Salzburg.

The song was declared cultural heritage of UNESCO​ in 2011 and has been translated into more than 200 languages.

And for those more into modern music styles, here some of the carols in different interpretations: