“The Fir Tree” was originally published in New Fairy Tales, Second Collection (1844) next to another winter tale, The Snow Queen. It was swiftly overshadowed by that other story and Andersen’s other tales, but Andrew Lang reprinted a fairly faithful translation in The Pink Fairy Book (1897), and it can currently be found on multiple websites, in both fairly faithful and not really faithful translations.
“The Fir Tree” is the story of a little fir tree who lives among several other fir trees, and desperately wants to be a big, grown up tree. We’ve all been there. His short size—not to mention the fact that rabbits can jump right over him—makes him desperately unhappy, and rather than enjoying life as a little tree, he spends his time envying the bigger trees.
This doesn’t decrease in the slightest when he sees these bigger trees cut down—off, he learns, for exciting adventures as ship masts (or so a bird explains) or as decorated Christmas trees. Suddenly the Fir Tree has something a bit unusual for a fir tree: ambition. Not to travel on a ship (though that does tempt him for a moment) but to be a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. He can think of nothing else, despite the advice from sunbeams and the wind to focus on youth and fresh air.
The very next Christmas he gets his wish. Getting cut down, it turns out, also brings quite a bit of sorrow—for the first time the Fir Tree realizes that he’s about to lose his friends and his home. Still! Christmas! As a splendid tree, the Fir Tree is swiftly selected by a family, and equally swiftly decorated—although even this doesn’t make him totally happy, since, well, the candles in the room and on the tree haven’t been lit, and he wants it to be evening, when everything will be splendid. Evening, though, turns out to be even worse, since once the tapers are lit, he’s afraid of moving and losing his ornaments—or getting burned. As Andersen gloomily tells us, it was really terrible.
Some relief comes when a very nice man tells the story of Humpty Dumpty, who fell down the stairs and married a princess—something that tree believes absolutely happened (after all, the man is very nice) and something he believes will happen to him. Unfortunately, he is instead dragged up to the attic, where he spends his time thinking about how lovely it was back in the forest and listening to stories, or trying to tell some mice and rats the story of his life and Humpty Dumpty. The rats are deeply unimpressed by the tree’s stories, and convince the mice to leave as well.
A few months later, the tree is dragged outside, chopped up, and burned.
HAPPY HOLIDAY SPIRIT EVERYONE!