Wednesday, 14 December 2011

14.12. The Norwegian spruce

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. This year, the Christmas tree was unfortunately damaged during demonstrations in London and needed some restoration work by the Westminster City Council to repair the damage, but it was declared restored and ready for the evening's visitors the next day.

So that was a bit of history for you, in these last few days before Christmas. Have you got a Norway spruce? Or do you prefer a plastic tree? Not long to go now, whatever you choose… Have you made your gingerbread house yet?? Have a look at my post from 4th December; a follow-up post about this topic will come probably early next week with the most recent pictures from people who have made gingerbread houses using my pattern and recipe. 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.


  1. Helene, it's a lovely tradition. I think the trees in Edinburgh ( my home city) and Kirkwall in Orkney (where I used to live) are also gifts from the people of Norway. Orkney in particular has great links with Norway. We have friends in Bergen and my stepson lived and worked in Oslo for a few years. It' s such a stunningly beautiful country.
    In spite of it being a lovely tradition, We don't have a tree anymore but decorate the house with candles and holly.

  2. (I found you through Blotanical, by the way... lovely blog)

    What an interesting post -- when I lived in London, I used to work at the National Gallery, right next to the tree, and loved watching it go up, be lit and then be enjoyed. It's a lovely tradition, and great history.