"The Fir-Tree" (Danish: "Grantræet") is a short story for children by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published on December 21, 1844 in an edition with "The Snow Queen". The Danish text was republished five times during Andersen's lifetime in various different volumes of his works. It has been republished many times since and translated into several other languages.
The title character and protagonist of the story is a small fir tree who is incapable of living in the moment. At the beginning of the story, he is unable to appreciate the beautiful surroundings in which he finds himself because he is always longing for a future when he imagines that greater glories will come to him. In the later part of the story, although the tree still hopes for a better future, he also looks back sadly on a past that he knows he can never recapture.
Andersen had written children's stories with sad endings before, such as "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" and "The Little Mermaid". However, "The Fir-Tree" takes a more pessimistic tone than any story which Andersen had written before. The fir tree's life ultimately appears to have been utterly futile and there is no reference to an afterlife of any kind at the end of the story. The tale ends with the tree being completely destroyed and no suggestion that its spirit with live on in any form.
The fir tree grows up in a forest which is equally beautiful in summer and winter. However, he never notices the beauty of his surroundings because he is constantly longing for the future. The fir tree hates being small, he is greatly angered when a young hare jumps right over him and is also upset when children call him a "pretty little tree". The fir tree longs to be tall like the older trees around him.
Some of the taller trees are cut down and there branches are stripped from them. The fir tree later finds out from a stork that those trees have been made into masts on a ship. The fir tree longs to become a mast and go to sea but he never grows tall enough to be used for that purpose.
In December, several more trees are cut down, some of which are even smaller than the fir tree, but their branches are not removed. The fir tree learns from some sparrows that they became Christmas trees. The sparrows tell him that the trees are placed inside a warm room and covered in beautiful decorations. The birds are unable to tell him what happens to the trees after Christmas but the fir tree imagines that it must be something even better than what the sparrows described.
The following year, the fir tree is cut down to be used as a Christmas tree himself. While he is being cut down, he suddenly realizes that he will never see the forest, the other trees or the birds again. On Christmas Eve, he is taken inside a house and covered with toys and edible decorations. The family briefly admire the decorated tree, before the children are allowed to take the toys and food from it. Once it is left almost bare, the tree is ignored. The children turn their attention to their grandfather, who tells them the story of "Humpty Dumpty" who had a great fall but later married a princess. All the while, the fir tree is eagerly anticipating an even more glorious future.
The fir tree imagines that he will be decorated again the following night and that he may hear another story from the grandfather. Instead he is placed in an attic. Nobody bothers to remove the star which remains on top of the tree. The fir tree eventually befriends some mice who love listening to his stories about his time in the forest. The fir tree finally realizes how beautiful the forest was and that he should have been happy there. He also looks back fondly on Christmas Eve. He is able to remember the entire story of "Humpty Dumpty" and tells it to the mice. At first, the mice love the story, however, some rats later hear the story as well and do not care for it at all. After hearing the rats' opinion, the mice decide that they do not like the story either. The mice avoid speaking to the tree after that and he soon comes to regret the loss of his former friends. Nevertheless, the tree still remains optimistic about the future, reasoning that although he has fallen, like Humpty Dumpty, his story could still have a happy ending.
In the spring, the tree is taken outside. He hopes at first that he will be planted. He notices some of the children that he saw on Christmas Eve. One boy calls him an "ugly old fir tree", removes the star from the top of the tree and places it on his chest before he goes off to play with the others. When he notices how withered and ugly he has become, the tree is embarrassed about being near to many beautiful plants which are in bloom and wishes that he were back in the attic.
All of the fir tree's hopes for a better future eventually come to nothing when he is chopped up into little pieces and burned.
- Text of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Fir-Tree" in Danish and English on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The Fir-Tree" On YouTube.