After the Second World War, Norway decided to repay their British allies with a very special annual gift – a tree.
Right now, in London’s Trafalgar Square, radiating its Yuletide joy in all directions, you will find a huge and brightly lit Christmas tree that has travelled all the way from Norway.
Which would seem exceptional if it weren’t so commonplace. With its four tonnes of weight and 27 metres of height, the tree is merely the last addition to a long and green tradition starting all the way back in 1947.
During the Second World War, Great Britain was Norway’s closest ally. This was where the Norwegian King and government fled as their country was occupied, and it was from London that much of Norway’s resistance movement was organised.
Both the BBC and its Norwegian counterpart NRK would broadcast in Norwegian from London, something that was both an important source of information and a boost of morale for those that remained in Norway, where people would listen in secret as radios had been forbidden by law by the occupants.
After the war, Norway began sending a pine tree to London every year as a thank you. Here’s what that looked like the first time, in 1947:
And here’s the 2016 edition:
This year, The Guardian journalist Christian House travelled in the opposite direction to join the hunt for the Christmas tree and experience what the snow covered forest area surrounding Oslo, known as “Oslomarka”, has to offer.
“It feels truly wild, populated with moose, lynx, roe deer and even the odd wolf”, he writes.
“A half-frozen lake cracks and creaks, cubist rock forms jut out of the earth, and in every direction legions of pines dissolve into the white haze.”
This is where he meets head forester Jon Christiansen, whose team scours the forests for worthy pines which are then “groomed like X Factor hopefuls” to secure optimal growth.
“We mark it and we tend them through the years”, Christiansen says to The Guardian.
“The most important thing is to clear the space around so it gets light from all angles.”
When the job of growing, cutting and shipping the tree is done, there is still plenty of work to be done before lighting the tree, as you can see in this timelapse video from 2011:
If you’re visiting and feel like getting a preview of what could be next year’s tree, a hike through Nordmarka is well recommended. And whilst you’re exploring the picturesque outskirts of Oslo (only a 20 minute subway ride from the city centre), you might also want to do as House and visit both Frognerseteren and the top of the Holmenkollen ski jump, a view he describes as “almost spiritual”.
Christmas in Norway lasts more than a few days: it’s a whole season with specific rituals and preparations. The snow that covers most of the country and the dark nights add a magical touch to the holiday spirit.
The Norwegian Trekking Association reveal their best tips for those looking for a special Christmas spirit.