'O Christmas Tree' Lyrics and Chords

Learn 'O Tannenbaum' on Guitar

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Nat King Cole recorded 'O Tannenbaum' on his 1960 album "The Magic of Christmas". Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images

This German Christmas song (titled "O Tannenbaum" in German) was not originally written as a Christmas carol at all. By the beginning of the twentieth century the song began to become associated with the holidays, and today is one of the most well-known Christmas carols.

Guitar Chords:

Advanced Performance:

  • Jazz-style chord melody - this YouTube video shows you how to play "O Christmas Tree" as a complex chord melody. Although not for beginners, there are a lot of great chord shapes to learn here for guitarists used to playing more traditional shapes.
  • Traditional chord melody - this YouTube video is easier than the jazz version - it contains more standard chord shapes.

Other Christmas Song Guitar Resources:

A History of 'O Christmas Tree'

Based on a 16th-century Silesian folk song by early Baroque era composer Melchior Franck. This folk song, titled "Ach Tannenbaum" ("oh, fir tree") was the basis for new lyrics written in 1824 by German teacher, organist, and composer Ernst Anschütz. Not previously considered to be a holiday song, the two new verses added by Anschütz made explicit references to Christmas. By 1824, the Christmas tree was already popular in Germany, although it wasn't until decades later use of a Christmas tree became common practice in England or America. Because of this, it's strongly believed the song wouldn't have gained any significant popularity in the United States until at least the mid-nineteenth century. The earliest known appearance of "O Christmas Tree" in English text was in 1916's Songs the Children Love to Sing.

Popular Recordings

Many Americans associate "O Christmas Tree" with Charlie Brown - the carol was included in the 1965 television special A Charlie Brown Christmas with music recorded by the Vince Guaraldi Trio (watch on YouTube). Nat King Cole also recorded a popular version of the song for his 1960 album The Magic of Christmas. You can hear both the English version and the German version on Youtube.

'O Christmas Tree' Performance Tips

Although it isn't impossible, there are a couple tricky bits in "O Christmas Tree" that you'll want to run over a few times before playing with other people.

"O Christmas Tree" is in waltz (3/4) time. Meaning that one bar of strumming is three beats long, instead of the usual four beats. Strum the song with all downstrums, three strums per bar. Occasionally, chords change mid-bar, so you should spend some time working out when to switch chords.

The chords for O Christmas Tree fairly straightforward, but there are a few seventh chords that you may or may not know. You'll need to be able to switch from A7 to B7 quickly, so practice moving back and forth between the two chords.