After the Second World War, Norway decided to repay their British allies with a very special annual Christmas gift – a tree.
On the first Thursday in December, a huge Christmas tree is lit in London’s Trafalgar Square, radiating its Yuletide joy in all directions. What you might not know, is that the tree has travelled all the way from Nordmarka outside of Oslo. Yes, in Norway.
The whole ordeal would seem exceptional – if it weren’t so commonplace. With its about four tonnes of weight and around thirty metres of height, the tree is merely the last addition to a long and green tradition that started 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 who remained in Norway, where people would listen in secret. Because radios were, of course, 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 2018 edition.
A few years back, 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 to them through the years”, Christiansen says to The Guardian.
“The most important thing is to clear the space around it, so it gets light from all angles.”
When the job of growing, cutting, and shipping the tree is done, plenty of work still remains before the lighting, as you can see in this timelapse video.
If you’re visiting and want a preview of what could be next year’s tree, a hike through Nordmarka is well recommended. And while you explore the picturesque outskirts of Oslo (only a 20-minute metro 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”.
The Trafalgar Square Christmas 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 1940–1945.
A tree has been given annually since 1947.
The tree lighting ceremony takes place on the first Thursday in December each year.
The tree stands until 6 January.
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