Thursday, 27 December 2012

The Norwegian Christmas tree

Living in London, UK, I often hear at this time of year about the famous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, often referred to as “the tree given by the people in Norway to the people in London”. As a Norwegian, knowing the story behind the Christmas tree, I thought I would use the opportunity to tell who the gift is from, and why, since I don’t think that’s something widely known here in the UK, and certainly not around the rest of the world.

The Christmas tree is a gift from the citizens of Oslo to the citizens of London, not from the whole of Norway, and that’s actually a bit of a difference – Oslo is the capital of Norway and has a population of just over 600.000 people, Norway in total has almost 5 mill people. But it is the story behind the Christmas tree that makes this an interesting piece of history.

First a bit of World War 2 history, picked from Wikepedia: The Norwegian Campaign was a military campaign that was fought in Norway during the Second World War between the Allies and Germany, after the latter's invasion of the country. In April 1940, the United Kingdom and France came to Norway's aid with an expeditionary force. Despite moderate success in the northern parts of Norway, Germany's invasion of France the following June compelled the Allies to withdraw and the Norwegian government to seek exile in London. The campaign subsequently ended with the occupation of Norway by Germany, and the continued fighting of exiled Norwegian forces from abroad. The conflict occurred between 9 April and 10 June 1940, the 62 days of fighting making Norway the nation that withstood a German invasion for the longest period of time, aside from the Soviet Union.

King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav, and the Cabinet Nygaardsvold left from the northern city Tromsø 7th June 1940, aboard the British cruiser HMS Devonshire, bound for Britain, to represent Norway in exile. Crown Princess Märtha and children later left from Petsamo, Finland, to live in exile in the United States. King Haakon and the Norwegian government escaped to Rotherhithe in London, and they supported the fight through inspirational radio speeches from London and by supporting clandestine military actions in Norway against the Nazis.

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has been an annual gift to the people of London by the city of Oslo each year since 1947 as a token of gratitude for British support of Norway during the Second World War. The tree has provided a central focus for the Trafalgar Square traditional carol-singing programme, performed by different groups raising money for voluntary or charitable organisations. The tree lighting ceremony in Trafalgar Square takes place on the first Thursday in December and is attended by thousands of people.

And here is a photo I took of the tree in 2004:


 The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is typically a 50- to 60-year-old Norway spruce, generally over 20 metres tall. The tree is cut sometime in November during a ceremony attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, the Mayor of Oslo, and Lord Mayor of Westminster. After the tree is cut it is shipped to Great Britain by sea. The Trafalgar Square tree is decorated in a traditional Norwegian style and adorned with 500 white lights. At the base of the tree stands a plaque, bearing the words:

    This tree is given by the city of Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude to the people of London for their assistance during the years 1940-45.

The tree remains until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas, when it is taken down for recycling. The tree is chipped and composted, to make mulch.

So that was a bit of history for you, in these last few days of December. Have you got a Norway spruce? Or do you prefer a plastic tree? By the way, did you make a gingerbread house this year? Have a look at my post from 20th December; a follow-up post about this topic will come probably early January with the most recent pictures from people who have made gingerbread houses using my pattern and recipe. Please send me photos if you would like to feature in my visitor gallery, whatever design you choose to use!

In these quiet times in my garden I try to find other things to write about besides garden stuff, but I still nip out to have a look around my garden now and then, just to see what’s happening. There’s always something happening! My sarcococcas are full of buds, not long before they will be flowering :-) Until next time, take care.

14 comments:

  1. Helene,
    I read about the Christmas tree from Norway and now I know that it is from the people of Oslo to people of London. About the history of the struggle of Norwegians in the second world war, I knew nothing at all.
    Thanks for the history.
    The gingerbread house is not yet done but if I glue its parts will send a photo.
    Have a nice day!

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    1. Have a nice day you too, and good luck with your gingerbread house!

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  2. That's a spectacular photo. I didn't know the detail about it coming from the people of Oslo.

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    1. Thank you, I took the photo on a veeeery cold December day many years ago :-)

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  3. Thanks for that historical information, Helene. I had heard about the Oslo-London tree in passing, but so glad to know more about the tradition. Our Christmas tree is a Fraser Fir this year. We always get a real tree, but the type of tree varies. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you all the best in 2013!

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    1. Thank you Beth, I miss having a real Christmas tree, I always had a Noble Fir for Christmas in Norway, but my living room here in London is so tiny I simply can't squeeze in a tree, not even a small one. Instead I have a decorated garland with lights on the window sill in my bay window, not exactly a Christmas tree, but better than nothing :-)
      Hope you are enjoying your Christmas holiday too, all the best for 2013.

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  4. What an interesting piece of history, and information about the tree. I didn't know this, and my husband, who is a WWII history buff, didn't know it, either. It's history such as this that needs to be handed down through the generations, and I'm glad you did a post on it.

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    1. Thank you Holley, I guess there are parts of the European WWll history that are less known, and for example the fact that Norway was occupied for 5 years isn't commonly known even over here in Britain where I now live. Glad you and your husband enjoyed the post :-)

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  5. Gorgeous photo!! We have a beautiful artificial tree. We used to have a real tree but got tired of how expensive they'd become. Plus, they dropped needles everywhere which was a pain to clean up.
    I love the history of the Trafalgar tree. It makes it much more special knowing its meaning is more than just decorative. :o)

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the story behind the tree - and my photo.
      As for Christmas tree, I guess I was a bit spoilt back in Norway, as my Noble Firs always came from a forest around the village where I lived. They used to cut them just a couple of weeks before Christmas, and at that time it would be very cold. I would take the tree into my house as a solid frozen tree and slowly thaw it up whilst giving it as much water as it wanted in the specially made Christmas tree base with water container. I would then continue to water the tree every day for as long as the tree would want any water, usually the next 2-3 weeks or so. The needles would usually not start to drop at all until mid January, by which I would consider chucking out the tree, but I can remember having my tree into last Sunday in January quite a few times!

      Over here in Britain the trees that are sold come from Holland or Denmark and are cut in August/September, they drop their needles as soon as they come indoors in a warm environment, I suppose that’s what you have experienced too...

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  6. Hi, Helene
    I'm from nadezda. I enjoyed the story about tree:)
    And I also enjoyed your garden from the previous posts:)
    Your photos are gorgeous!
    I'm happy to find your blog! Of course, I'm following you:)

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    1. Hi Keity, and welocme to my blog! Thank you for your kind words.

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  7. I've only learned about the significance of this tradition this year, but you have added a new dimension to it with these historical details. It must be a wonderful moment both for the people in London as well as those in Oslo.

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