9 traditional German Christmas carols (and their lyrics in English)

9 traditional German Christmas carols (and their lyrics in English)

9 traditional German Christmas carols (and their lyrics in English)

Christmas Eve is a night that people in Germany traditionally spend singing carols, either at their local church, or at home around the Christmas tree. Large gatherings of singers won’t, of course, be possible this year, but there’s nothing to stop you belting out some of your favourite German Christmas carols at home. 

Here is an overview of nine of the most popular Christmas carols, with their original lyrics in German and an English translation. 

A brief history of Christmas carols

The idea of singing carols at Christmas dates back thousands of years. In pre-Christian times, pagans would sing songs at celebrations that marked the changing of the seasons, including at the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. At the time, singing celebrations were actually held during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing carols at Christmas has really survived. 

As Europe was gradually Christianised, the birth of Jesus began to be celebrated around the same time as the Winter Solstice, and Christianity-themed hymns overtook the pagan songs. In 129 AD a bishop decreed that a song called “Angel’s Hymn” should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome - that song is generally regarded as one of the first ever Christmas carols. 

Over time, more and more Christmas carols were composed, but as they were mostly written and sung in Latin (a language that most normal people couldn’t understand), they weren’t hugely popular. It wasn’t until the 13th century, when popular Christmas songs in regional languages began to develop, that Christmas carols really took off and began to spread across Europe. 

Most of these early songs were originally communal songs sung during celebrations such as harvest time; it was only later that they began to be sung in church and specifically associated with Christmas. In Germany especially, carols increased in popularity during the Reformation. Reformers like Martin Luther liked music and encouraged the use of songs in worship. By the 19th century, carols were being collected and printed in popular collections.

Christmas carols in German and English

In fact, most of the traditional carols we sing today date from this period. Let’s take a look at some of the popular German carols in more detail. 

Stille Nacht (Silent Night)

This world-famous Christmas song comes to us from a small Austrian village called Oberndorf. The story goes that, on a cold Christmas Eve in 1818, a pastor called Joseph Franz Mohr was desperately looking for a carol to sing at his midnight mass service later that evening. 

He picked up a Christmas poem he’d written a few years earlier and took it to his friend Franz Gruber, an organist who lived in a neighbouring village. Gruber allegedly composed the melody for Mohr in just a few hours, and the Christmas service was saved! Since recent flooding had put the church organ out of action, the original composition was laid out for a guitar. 

German lyrics

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!

English lyrics

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
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree)

Believe it or not, but one of the world’s most famous Christmas carols actually has nothing to do with Christmas. Set to the tune of a traditional folk song, the lyrics were written in 1824 by an organist and composer from Leipzig, Ernst Anschütz. The tree that inspired the song was not actually a Christmas tree, but an ordinary fir tree, whose evergreen branches Anschütz took as a lovely symbol of constancy and faithfulness. 

It was only later, as the custom of the Christmas tree developed during the 19th century, that the song came to be seen as a Christmas tree carol. At some point, Anschütz’s description of the tree as “treu” (true or faithful) morphed into the word “grün” (green) - and the rest, as they say, is history.

German lyrics

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum,
Wie treu sind deine Blätter!

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

English lyrics

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
Not only green in summer’s heat,
But also winter’s snow and sleet.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely!
Each year you bring to us delight
With brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Of all the trees most lovely!

Alle Jahre wieder (Every Year Again)

The religious lyrics to this well-known Christmas carol were written in 1837 by Johann Wilhelm Hey (another man from Thuringia); the melody is usually attributed to Friedrich Schiller. The song describes the annual return of the Christkind.

German lyrics

Alle Jahre wieder
Kommt das Christuskind
Auf die Erde nieder,
Wo wir Menschen sind.

Kehrt mit seinem Segen
Ein in jedes Haus,
Geht auf allen Wegen
Mit uns ein und aus.

Steht auch mir zur Seite
Still und unerkannt,
Dass es treu mich leite
An der lieben Hand.

English lyrics

Every year again
Comes the Christ Child
Down to earth
Where we humans are.

Stops with his blessing
At every house
Walks on all paths
With us in and out.

Stands also at my side
Silent and unrecognised
To faithfully guide me
With His beloved hand.

Am Weihnachtsbaum, die Lichter brennen (On the Christmas Tree the Lights are on)

The words for this Christmas carol were written by Hermann Kletke in 1841, and were set to a melody that was already in use in Thuringia and Saxony

This carol is interesting because it reflects the gradual secularisation of Christmas during the 19th century; the birth of Jesus is not even mentioned in the lyrics. Instead, the author focuses on the mood during Christmas celebrations, with the whole family gathered around the festively-decorated and lit Christmas tree. 

German lyrics

Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen,
Wie glänzt er festlich, lieb und mild,
Als spräch’ er: wollt in mir erkennen
Getreuer Hoffnung stilles Bild.

Die Kinder stehn mit hellen Blicken,
Das Auge lacht, es lacht das Herz;
O fröhlich’, seliges Entzücken!
Die Alten schauen himmelwärts.

English lyrics

On the Christmas tree the lights are on
How it glows festive, lovely and mild
As if it were saying: "See in me
The silent picture of faithful hope!"

The children stand with bright glances
The eye laughs, the heart as well
Oh cheerfully blessed delight!
The old look heavenwards.

Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming)

The origins of this Christmas carol and Marian hymn are shrouded in mystery; we don’t know who wrote the lyrics, nor who composed the melody. It first appeared in print way back in 1599 and has since been published with a varying number of verses and in several translations. 

As well as being one of the oldest German Christmas carols, it’s also one of the most popular, with modern artists as varied as Mannheim Steamroller and Sting all recording their own versions!

German lyrics

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
Aus einer Wurzel zart.
Wie uns die Alten sungen,
Aus Jesse kam die Art
Und hat ein Blümlein bracht,
Mitten im kalten Winter,
Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Das Röslein das ich meine,
Davon Jesaias sagt:
Maria ist’s, die Reine,
Die uns das Blümlein bracht:
Aus Gottes ewigem Rat
Hat sie ein Kindlein g’boren
Bleibend ein reine Magd

English lyrics

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it.
The Virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore to them a Saviour,
When half-spent was the night.

Kling, Glöckchen (Ring, Little Bell)

Like many others on this list, this popular German Christmas song dates back to the 19th century. You don’t need us to tell that Christmas and bells go together like bread and butter. 

The lyrics were written by Carl Enslin and set to a traditional folk tune. Other people say that the music was composed by Benedikt Widmann. All we know is that Schlager star Helene Fischer has recorded her own version!

German lyrics

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling!
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Laßt mich ein, ihr Kinder!
Ist so kalt der Winter!
Öffnet mir die Türen!
Laßt mich nicht erfrieren!
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling!
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!

Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling!
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!
Mädchen, hört, und Bübchen,
Macht mir auf das Stübchen!
Bring euch viele Gaben,
Sollt euch dran erlaben!
Kling, Glöckchen, klingelingeling!
Kling, Glöckchen, kling!

English lyrics

Ring, little bell, ringalingaling!
Ring, little bell, ring!
Let me in, you kids!
So cold is the winter!
Open the doors for me!
Don’t let me freeze!
Ring, little bell, ringalingaling!
Ring, little bell, ring!

Ring, little bell, ringalingaling!
Ring, little bell, ring!
Girls, listen, and boys,
Open up the room for me!
I bring you many gifts,
You should enjoy them!
Ring, little bell, ringalingaling!
Ring, little bell, ring!

Kommet, ihr Hirten (Come, All ye Shepherds)

Derived from the Czech carol, Nesem vám noviny, this German Christmas carol from Boihemia reflects on elements from the nativity story. The German text was written as a loose translation of the Czech original by Carl Riedel in Leipzig in the 19th century. It’s still very popular today, especially among Protestant congregations. 

German lyrics

Kommet, ihr Hirten, ihr Männer und Fraun,
Kommet, das liebliche Kindlein zu schaun,
Christus, der Herr, ist heute geboren,
Den Gott zum Heiland euch hat erkoren.
Fürchtet euch nicht!

Lasset uns sehen in Bethlehems Stall,
Was uns verheißen der himmlische Schall;
Was wir dort finden, lasset uns künden,
Lasset uns preisen in frommen Weisen:

Wahrlich, die Engel verkündigen heut
Bethlehems Hirtenvolk gar große Freud:
Nun soll es werden Friede auf Erden,
Den Menschen allen ein Wohlgefallen:
Ehre sei Gott!

English lyrics

Come, ye shepherds, ye men and women,
Come see the dear baby child,
Christ the Lord is born today,
Whom God has chosen as your Saviour.
Fear ye not!

Let us see in Bethlehem’s stall,
What the heavenly sound is promising us,
What we find there, let us proclaim!
Let us piously praise!

Verily, the angels proclaim today
To Bethelehem’s shepherds only great joy.
Now there should be peace on earth,
Good tidings to all of mankind.
Glory to God!

Leise rieselt der Schnee (Softly Falls the Snow)

One of the most famous songs written in the German language, Leise rieselt der Schnee was composed in 1895 by the Protestant pastor Eduard Ebel. It tells of the Christkind’s arrival and the snow falling in winter. The melody is also usually attributed to Ebel, but there is some suggestion that he actually adopted an old folk tune for his song. 

German lyrics

Leise rieselt der Schnee,
Still und starr ruht der See.
Weihnachtlich glänzet der Wald:
Freue Dich, Christkind kommt bald!

In den Herzen ist’s warm,
Still schweigt Kummer und Harm,
Sorge des Lebens verhallt:
Freue Dich, Christkind kommt bald!

's Kindlein, göttlich und arm,
Macht die Herzen so warm.
Strahle, du Stern überm Wald!
Freue dich, Christkind kommt bald!

Bald ist Heilige Nacht,
Chor der Engel erwacht,
Horch’ nur wie lieblich es schallt:
Freue Dich, Christkind kommt bald!

English lyrics

The snow falls quietly,
Silent and still lies the lake,
Christmas shines over the woods.
Rejoice, Christ child comes soon!

There is warmth in our hearts,
Free from sorrow and grief,
Worries in life disappear,
Rejoice, Christ child comes soon!

The child, divine and poor,
Makes the heart so warm,
Shine, you star above the forest,
Rejoice, Christ Child is coming soon!

Soon is Christmas night,
The choir of angels awake,
Listen how lovely it sounds:
Rejoice, Christ child comes soon!

Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann (Santa is Coming Tomorrow)

Written by the man best-known for writing the lyrics to the German national anthem, Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann is a popular German Christmas carol about - you guessed it - the imminent arrival of Santa Claus. It was first published in 1837 under the title, “Der Weihnachtsmann.” 

Reflecting the militaristic Prussian era when it was written, some of the song’s lyrics were deemed too “violent” and so in modern versions terms referring to toy weapons such as rifles and sabres have been exchanged for more “appropriate” children’s items like colourful lights, farms and train sets. 

German lyrics

Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann,
Kommt mit seinen Gaben.
Trommel, Pfeife und Gewehr,
Fahn' und Säbel und noch mehr,
Ja, ein ganzes Kriegesheer
Möcht' ich gerne haben.

Bring uns, lieber Weihnachtsmann,
Bring auch morgen, bringe
Musketier und Grenadier,
Zottelbär und Pantertier,
Ross und Esel, Schaf und Stier,
Lauter schöne Dinge.

English lyrics

Tomorrow Santa comes
Comes with his gifts
Drum, pipe and gun
Flag and sabre and a lot more
Yes a whole war's army
I'd like to have

Bring us, dear Santa,
Bring us tomorrow too, bring
Musketeer and grenadier,
Shaggy bear and panther
Horse and donkey, sheep and bull
Lots of beautiful things

Sing your heart out this Christmas!

Now add all these songs to your YouTube playlist and sing along for a truly German Christmas. Not only does listening to German Christmas music get you in the festive spirit, but it’s also a great way to practice your pronunciation and pick up vocabulary while your German course is taking a break. It really is the most wonderful time of year!



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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cerargyritecera... 15:40 | 3 January 2021