The Christmas tree that is ‘the Queen of the Forest’
Every December, since 1947, the people of Norway have given the people of the United Kingdom a giant Christmas Tree which takes pride of place in Trafalgar Square.
But what’s the story behind the annual gift? And how do they go about selecting the tree each year?
The annual gift is presented in recognition of Britain’s support for Norway during World War Two. Despite its neutrality, Norway was invaded by Germany in April 1940 and, following defeat two months later, remained under German occupation until the end of the war.
The Royal Navy sought to hold back the German invasion, and both navies suffered casualties. Britain and its allies also sent an expeditionary force to Norway. Ultimately, the Allied campaign in Norway was lost in June 1940.
But the King, members of his family and Government ministers managed to flee Norway on board the Royal Navy ship, HMS Devonshire, enabling the Norwegians to set up a Government in exile in London. However, their evacuation led to the loss of some of HMS Devonshire’s escorting ships. When Norway was liberated, the Royal Family and Government in exile returned to Norway on board HMS Norfolk.
The Trafalgar Square tree symbolises the enduring friendship of the two nations. And it’s no ordinary tree, either. Great care is taken in growing and choosing the tree. As you would expect, it is usually a Norwegian spruce. It comes from the forests on the edge of Oslo, is about 25 metres high (82ft), and between 50-100 years old.
The tree is often selected years in advance – and it must be absolutely perfect. The foresters who tend the chosen tree call it ‘the Queen of the Forest’. Once chosen, the tree gets extra special treatment, which includes an area of clear space all around it, so it gets good light.
The felling is a ceremonial event that takes place in November, attended by dignitaries from Norway and Britain. The tree is then brought to London by sea and lorry. Putting the tree up in Trafalgar Square is a major operation, requiring a specialist rigging team and a hydraulic crane. Once up, it is always decorated in traditional Norwegian style.
This year, the lighting ceremony at the tree takes place on 6 December at 6pm. Carol singing takes place at the tree on most days in the run up to Christmas. The tree is taken down for recycling just before Twelfth Night.
Although the most famous, the Trafalgar Square tree isn’t the only one sent to the UK from Norway as a mark of friendship. Other places include The Orkney Islands, Edinburgh and Newcastle.