Every year since 1947, a 20-metre tall tree has been donated to the British as a thank-you from Norway. Now, that tree shines in London’s Trafalgar Square every holiday season.
The tree was given to thank the British for their support during World War II. In April 1940, Germany invaded Norway and attempted to capture King Haakon VII, the royal family, and other members of the Norwegian government. The King then sought refuge in Lonon and led the resistance there. After Norway was liberated in 1945, the Norwegians returned home on the HMS Norfolk.
While the tree was first displayed in 1947, the tradition of giving Britain the tree started in 1943. Norweigan underground fighters gave the tree as a symbol of their gratitude. There were actually three trees – one for the Norwegian King, one for the Norweigan Embassy, and the other to go on display in Trafalgar Square. It was only after the war, in 1947, the sentiment took precedence, and the customs currently associated with it began.
The tree is typically a Norwegian spruce (Picea abies) over 20 metres high, and about 50 to 60 years old. It is selected from the forests surrounding Oslo with great care, sometimes several years in advance. The Norwegian foresters who take care of the tree often describe it as “the queen of the forest.”
The tree is felled in November during a ceremony in which the British ambassador to Norway joins the Mayor of Oslo and the Lord Mayor of Westminster. Brought over to the UK by sea, the tree completes its journey by lorry. Once at its destination, a specialised rigging team puts the tree in Trafalgar Square using a hydraulic crane. Of course, there needs to be decorations. The tree is decorated in traditional Norweigan fashion with a vertical string of energy-efficient lights.
The lighting of the Christmas tree is always seen as the start of the Christmas countdown in the capital.
The tree will remain in Trafalgar Square just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas. It will then be chipped and composted to make mulch.