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King Haakon’s Christmas speeches to an occupied Norway

Christmas tends to be a pleasant time, especially for the royals. When it comes to the Norwegian Royal Family, they have many good Christmas traditions that make Christmas a pleasant time. There is, however, a period when Christmas for the Royal Family from Norway was not very pleasant, namely during World War II.

Germany invaded Norway on 9 April 1940. This led to a five-year occupation. While some of the Norwegian Royal Family lived in exile in the United States, King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav stayed in London to continue the fight to liberate Norway from Nazism.

The Christmases from 1940 to 1944, the royals had to celebrate outside Norway. King Haakon then established a new tradition that meant a great deal to the Norwegian people living under occupation. King Haakon gave a Christmas speech on the radio to the Norwegian people every year. This was a part of making King Haakon the symbol of Norwegian patriotism and freedom.

King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav and a Norwegian officer inspect weapons during the training of Norwegian soldiers in Scotland, probably in 1944. Photo: By Ole Friele Backer (1907—1947) – Ole Friele Backer: Krigsfotografen, Bergen, 1946, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Norwegian government and monarch started their own radio channel broadcasting from London to Norway. In 1940, more than 500,000 radios existed in Norway. In the autumn of 1941, a regulation was issued that stated that everyone had to hand in their radios. Only German soldiers and members of the Nazi Party were allowed to keep a radio. Although keeping a radio was illegal and could be punishable by up to two years in prison, many defied the regulation. They gathered secretly every night to receive news from the “free” press.

The King’s first speech from London during Christmas was characterised by the fact that Norway had been occupied half a year before, and it had only been a few months since the King had been forced to evacuate to Britain. In his first Christmas speech, King Haakon said, among other things: “When I send you all a greeting today for Christmas, it is with sadness and sorrow in my heart because my family and I cannot celebrate the Christmas season with you in our dear Fatherland. Heavy and threatening clouds hung over our land last Christmas; this year, the clouds have been sinking down over the country, so it can be difficult to make use of the good old wish for a “merry” Christmas.”

The Norwegian Royal Family returns to Norway in June 1945. Photo: By Zimmerman, E A (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer – This is photograph A 29155 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-01), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

By 1944, the war had turned. King Haakon knew about the secret plans for an invasion of France and had himself worked for the Allies to invade Norway, as well. The Soviet Union had already attacked Germans in Norway, and parts of northern Norway were now under Soviet control, cooperating with King Haakon and his government. A new optimism marked the King’s last Christmas speech from London. The King said:

“One big bright spot is that a part of our country has become free again. In Eastern Finnmark, our countrymen again experience a Christmas as free men under our own Norwegian flag. Everyone is also aware that the final battle can be tough in Norway as well and that everyone must be prepared to take part in the final fight. After all, we celebrate this Christmas in confidence and faith in the future. We know that victory and liberation are ahead of us, and we have the right to believe that next year we can celebrate Christmas together in a free Norway, as it will again be the celebration of peace and home, which is its deeper and true meaning.”

King Haakon was right. This would be the last Christmas under occupation. Five months later, the Germans surrendered, and the Norwegian Royal Family were able to return a month later. The Christmas of 1945 was traditionally celebrated in Norway, with Norwegian royal traditions.

About author

Senior Europe Correspondent Oskar Aanmoen has a master in military and political history of the Nordic countries. He has written six books on historical subjects and more than 1.500 articles for Royal Central. He has also interview both Serbian and Norwegian royals. Aanmoen is based in Oslo, Norway.