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 Trafalgar Square gets spruced up for Christmas

 

November 2017

Photos: City of Oslo / Sturlason
Photos: City of Oslo / Sturlason

Without doubt, at some point in December, pictures of the enormous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in London will appear in newspapers and on the TV.

It has been part of traditional British mid winter and Christmas festivities for most of our lifetimes yet most of us only have a vague idea about its origins and who actually puts it up.

The most commonly known fact about the tree is that it is a gift from the Norwegians as a thank you because we helped them out during World War II. That is certainly how it started.

During the war, between 1940 and 1945 when Norway was occupied, the Norwegian government and royal family lived in exile in London. After the war, as things became sorted out, the Norwegians came up with the idea of donating a Christmas tree to Britain as a token of gratitude, celebration and commemoration for its help during the war years.

So in autumn 1947 a huge 48 foot tree was cut down from the forests outside Oslo and shipped to Britain on the SS Borgholm. It was then officially handed over by the Norwegian Ambassador Mr Prevensen to the British Minister of Works Mr Key before it was erected on the west side of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. In Norway a similar fir tree was set up in the University Square in Oslo. Children in both countries were encouraged to view the lit and decorated tree which in those days was quite a treat for youngsters who had endured the grey days of war. The gift became an annual event, and over the subsequent years, the arrival of the Norwegian Christmas tree has come to symbolise the deep and long lasting friendship between the two countries.

Today the tree has become if anything even more magnificent.  Each year a selection process starts in the lovely sustainable forests outside Oslo in May or June. Finally a large Norwegian spruce tree, usually around 50 or 60 years old and up to 65 foot or so in height, is carefully selected.  It is then felled during a special ceremony which last year was attended not only by the Mayor of Oslo but also by the Mayor of Westminster.

Other celebrations also take place in Norway during the start of the tree’s long journey. Last year children from three local schools all gathered in the forest in mid November to sing Christmas carols as the tree was felled and put on its transport first by road and then by sea to the UK.

It used to be shipped to Felixstowe free of charge on a cargo ship owned by Fred Olsen, but today the transportation of the tree is the responsibility of the big engineering company Beck & Pollitzer. They transport the spruce by sea usually to Hull, and then drive it down to Trafalgar Square. There a specialist rigging team erects the tree with a hydraulic crane. It is then decorated in a traditional Norwegian style with vertical strings of energy efficient little white light bulbs.

 A plaque is also erected at the base of the tree which says:
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.

Each year a special lighting ceremony takes place which really marks the start of the Christmas festivities. This year the ceremony will be at 6pm on December 7th.

The ceremony will be led by the Lord Mayor of Westminster along with a band and choir supported usually a crowd of thousands and there is an exciting count down to the lights actually being turned on.

Throughout the Christmas period activities including carols and New Year celebrations will all take place under the lights of the lovely tree. It  will remain in Trafalgar Square until just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas (this year Thursday January 5th) when the tree will be taken down, chipped and then composted to make mulch.

More information about carols in Trafalgar Square can be found here.

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