Christmas Songs and some German Christmas Customs

http://german.about.com/library/weekly/aa113098.htm

German and Austrian Christmas customs have spread throughout the world wherever Christmas (Weihnachten) is celebrated. From the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) to “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht“) and on to the Advent calendar (Adventskalender), people around the globe have adopted many traditions that began in the German-speaking world.

The Christmas songs, that I remember from my childhood, have a special meaning for me. Some songs were very joyful, others more reflective, that is ‘besinnlich’. Besinnlich meant we became deeply and seriously thoughtful while singing these songs . This kind of singing appealed to me. Advent was the only time of the year when my family would sing some songs together. And it went on for four Sunday afternoons in a row. After the fourth Sunday of Advent some serious preparations for Christmas Eve started. We children were not included in these preparations. As children we therefore became highly impatient while we were waiting for Christmas Eve – “Heiligabend” .

“Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,” and “O du fröhliche” were very popular songs during my childhood. (I was born in 1934.)

German

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund
, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Words: Joseph Mohr, 1816
Music: Franz Xaver Gruber, 1818

English

Silent night, holy night
All is calm all is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

http://german.about.com/od/christmas/a/StilleNacht.htm

O du fröhliche
This very popular German Christmas carol has Italian origins. In 1788 the German philosopher, theologian, and poet Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) brought the melody to Germany after a trip to Italy. Originally a Sicilian fisherman’s song, the melody was used for the Latin hymn “O Sanctissima.” Around 1816 Johannes Daniel Falk (1768-1826) wrote the German lyrics for what soon became one of the most popular German Weihnachtslieder. The English version is known as “O How Joyfully.”


O du fröhliche
O You Merry (Christmastide)

MELODIE: Sizilianisches Fischerlied – Johann Gottfried von Herder (1788)
TEXT: Johannes Daniel Falk (1816)

DEUTSCH
Johannes Daniel Falk, 1816O du fröhliche, o du selige,
Gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Welt ging verloren,
Christ ist geboren,
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
Gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Christ ist erschienen,
Uns zu versöhnen,
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
Gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Himmlische Heere
Jauchzen dir Ehre,
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

ENGLISH (lit. prose)
See poetic version below
O you merry, o you blessed,
Merciful Christmastide!
The world was lost,
Christ was born,
Rejoice, rejoice o Christendom!

O you merry, o you blessed,
Merciful Christmastide!
Christ appeared,
To reconcile us,
Rejoice, rejoice o Christendom!

O you merry, o you blessed,
Merciful Christmastide!
Heavenly hosts,
Exult your honor,
Rejoice, rejoice o Christendom!

LISTEN > Melody for “O du fröhliche” (midi version)


English poetic version, author unknown
O How Joyfully (O du fröhliche)

O how joyfully, o how blessedly,
Comes the glory of Christmastime!
To a world so lost in sin,
Christ the Savior, enters in:
Praise Him, praise Him Christians, evermore!

O how joyfully, o how blessedly,
Comes the glory of Christmastime!
Jesus, born in lowly stall,
With His grace redeems us all:
Praise Him, praise Him Christians, evermore!

O how joyfully, o how blessedly,
Comes the glory of Christmastime!
Hosts of angels from on high,
Sing, rejoicing, in the sky:
Praise Him, praise Him Christians, evermore!

http://german.about.com/library/blmus_dufroehlich.htm

2 thoughts on “Christmas Songs and some German Christmas Customs

  1. I have to agree with you, dear Uta, that Advent and Christmas in German-speaking countries is so much more enjoyable than in Engliash-speaking lands, even in these over-commercialised days. I don’t know a good English word for ‘besinnlich’ – but it’s that element that makes the difference. I have been fortunate to spend many Advents and Christmases in snowy mountain settings, and there is nothing to compare with trudging through the snow to midnight mass (even though I’m not a Catholic!)

    1. Thank you so much, dear Cat, for commenting. Snowy settings of course tend to have a very calming influence. I think this is why it is extra special to have snow around Christmastime. Here in Australia we have in December a great summer holiday season. Christmas is very different from what it used to be for us in Germany. However we do stick to some traditions. For instance listening to certain Christmas songs brings back memories of a time long gone!

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