left biblioblography: OH TANNENBAUM, OH TANNENBAUM

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

OH TANNENBAUM, OH TANNENBAUM

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Thy leaves are so unchanging
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Thy leaves are so unchanging
Not only green when summer's here
But also when 'tis cold and drear
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Thy leaves are so unchanging”

(For a list of ‘converted’ Xmas carols, check this site out)

It’s no small wonder that I like trees. I’m not a tree-hugger: it’s hell on wheels to get sap stains out of your clothes, and strange looks from your dry-cleaner should be avoided.

I grew up around this tradition: there are comforting associations. A feeling of family (albeit, in my circle, it’s not usually a peaceful one), community, and hey! Shiny objects! Tinsel! Blinking lights! Presents!

I don’t have a problem with Xmas trees. I rather enjoy them. I’d not go out of my way to chop one down – I’m lazy: if ever I own a tree, it’ll be one of those fake trees (everyone in my family has one. It’s more economical, anyways. You can re-use the bloody thing for just about forever).

Besides which, it’s not even a Christian symbol.

From here:

“The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life. In Roman mosaics from what is today Tunisia, showing the mythic triumphant return from India of the Greek god of wine and male fertility, Dionysus (dubbed by some modern scholars as a life-death-rebirth deity), the god carries a tapering coniferous tree. Medieval legends, nevertheless, tended to concentrate more on the miraculous "flowering" of trees at Christmas time. A branch of flowering Glastonbury thorn is still sent annually for the Queen's Christmas table in the United Kingdom.

“Patron trees (for example, the Irminsul, Thor's Oak and the figurative Yggdrasil) held special significance for the ancient Germanic tribes, appearing throughout historic accounts as sacred symbols and objects. Among early Germanic tribes the Yule tradition was celebrated by sacrificing male animals and slaves by suspending them on the branches of trees. According to Adam of Bremen, in Scandinavia the pagan kings sacrificed nine males of each species at the sacred groves every ninth year. According to one legend, Saint Boniface attempted to introduce the idea of trinity to the pagan tribes using the cone-shaped evergreen trees because of their triangular appearance.”

This is by no means conclusive, though:

”The modern custom, however, although likely related, cannot be proven to be directly descended from pagan tradition. It can be traced to 16th century Germany; Ingeborg Weber-Keller (Marburg professor of European ethnology) identified as the earliest reference a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which reports how a small fir was decorated with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers, and erected in the guild-house, for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the dainties on Christmas day.”

And of course, the obligatory anti-scriptural basis for the tradition:

“For the customs of the people [are] vain: for [one] cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers that it moves not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

To be fair, though:

”In other English translations of the Bible the verses more explicitly refer to the practice of making idols to be worshipped:

“For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with a hammer and nails so it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good. (emphasis added)

“A full study of the passage shows that the people would cut down a tree and work it with a chisel to engrave an image in it. They would also carry it from place to place as an object to be feared and worshipped. The only consistencies with Christmas tree customs seem to be that both are made of wood and both are decorated.”

I’m relatively sure that it is a YACC (Yet Another Co-opted Custom, in case you Unix geeks get all lathered up, hehehehe).

Nutshelling it: the tradition in the USA dates back to 1837. It’s a minor affectation, hardly worth the lather some folks get worked up over.

Here is my re-working of Oh, Tannenbaum, submitted for your approval:

“Oh Yggdrasil, oh Yggdrasil,

Odin was crucified upon thee

Oh Yggdrasil, oh Yggdrasil,

Thy roots pierce the worlds three

The nornir keep thee green

The four stags feed upon thee

Oh Yggdrasil, oh Yggdrasil,

It really sucks to be thee.”

In the meantime, have a wicked Winterval on me.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

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11 comments:

Aaron Kinney said...

And dont forget partying and drinking seasonal beer. Yummmmm! :D

Aaron Kinney said...

BTW you are now listed in the AO blogroll as "biblioblography" :)

Im lookin into the Julia Sweeney thing now.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Hi Aaron, thx for coming by.
I did note (post ex posto, hehehehe), that I was on the Atheist Blogroll. I may have gotten a tad confused.
But I thank you, kind sir.

karen said...

I love yggdrasil trees. I would leave one up year round, except it would be awfully hard to dust. I actually have two of them. One is a theme tree in my front hallwya. Or it's becoming a theme tree--of snowmen and snowflakes and icicles and the like. Across the hall from it I have my snowman collection set up. In the family room, I have a bigger Pagantree with lots of lights and old ornaments that were from my parent's house and homemade ornaments and Elmos that my granddaughter and I cut out of wrapping paper one day and hung on the lowest branches. In that room I have my Santa Claus collection.

Lots of bright shiny objects! And lots of handmade crafts I've made o'er the years.

I can't have a real tree --- allergies. I've become used to the artificial ones, and I don't miss getting sick from handling a real pine at all.

Loved your spin-off of the Tannenbaum song!

Happy Solstice! It's only a day away! :-)

Krystalline Apostate said...

karen:
Wow, it sounds like you're in the Winterval spirit, m'love.
Happy Solstice! It's only a day away! :-)
Have a slammin' solstice, m'lady.

karen said...

KA
Yes, the Winterval spirit is with me.
I especially love buying, wrapping and giving presents. It's special when you're giving to everyone all at once, rather than to one person for a birthday or other occasion. The kids make it so much fun.

And I get to give my first gifts tonight at a Solstice party with my best friend and her family!

I do miss the snow that I grew up with in Pennsylvania though. It's a real treat when we have the odd snowfall here in Carolina. Doesn't look like much chance of any soon though.

Happy Officail Solstice, and Festivus for the Restofus!

Krystalline Apostate said...

karen:
I especially love buying, wrapping and giving presents. It's special when you're giving to everyone all at once, rather than to one person for a birthday or other occasion. The kids make it so much fun.
Yeah, it is sorta fun.
Here's a hint: never, EVER make a kid the Santa (passing out gifts). Last 2 years, my niece has tried to save her gifts (all of 'em!) for last. At least that's my POV. Every kid's different.
I do miss the snow that I grew up with in Pennsylvania though. It's a real treat when we have the odd snowfall here in Carolina.
My dad actually moved from PA 'cause he couldn't STAND the snow. When we were kids, we'd go somewhere for snow, play in it, 5 mins later, it was time to pack up & leave.
Snow's kinda cool, but I'd not go out of my way for it. It happens, it happens.

Mesoforte said...

Norse Mythology, nice.

The Intolerant One said...

Hey KA,

I just got around to reading this late tonite and I am a "ghost" after tommorrow.

Very informative read. You might want to pass this on to all our secular judges (especially one's named Marion)who like to remove Christmas tree's on our (the Christians) behalf because we somehow offended other's with a tradition that did not originate with us.

I wish all the best my friend and a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

BTW I do not just hang "religious symbols" on my tree. There is a very special place reserved near the top of the tree for my authentic hand painted Harley Davidson Fat Boy tree ornament :)

Krystalline Apostate said...

TIO:
Very informative read. You might want to pass this on to all our secular judges (especially one's named Marion)who like to remove Christmas tree's on our (the Christians) behalf because we somehow offended other's with a tradition that did not originate with us.
We had a similar incident in the Seattle airport, w/a rabbi.
No, not a joke. No punchline.
I wish all the best my friend and a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Likewise, my friend.
There is a very special place reserved near the top of the tree for my authentic hand painted Harley Davidson Fat Boy tree ornament :)
Why, you old pagan, you. ;)
Kiddin'.

The Intolerant One said...

KA,

"We had a similar incident in the Seattle airport, w/a rabbi.
No, not a joke. No punchline."


I read about that. I almost included that in my last post but there are number of sorry incidents like this. I decided to stick too the Cnadian content

"Why, you old pagan, you. ;)
Kiddin'.


LOL Hey, You can never say I have laid claim to my "perfection" I only strive to be Christ like. Besides, the ornament in question is not an object of worship. Only deep admiration. (Also slightly torturous as it reminds of what I CANNOT be doing during this time of year up here with all that white stuff)