Trafalgar Square has always been used for celebrations, political demonstrations and marches. At Christmas, it takes on a more festive and yet poignant air as London celebrates the arrival of an enormous Christmas tree. This is no ordinary Christmas tree; this is a 25 metre Norwegian Spruce nicknamed “The queen of the forest”.
Since 1947, there has been a ceremony to light this famous tree which has become one of London’s favourite Christmas traditions. The tree gently dominates the square throughout the festive period until is taken away just before Twelfth Night or 6th January.
The tall, elegant beauty is an annual gift from the people of Oslo, Norway; a constant thank you for the support given by the UK during World War II. In 1940, Norway was occupied by the Nazis. Their monarch, King Haakon VII fled to London where he set up a government-in-exile. The BBC World Service regularly broadcast his speeches back home and British forces helped train Norwegian commandos and supplied them with intelligence to attack key Nazi installations.
Every year for 70 years, this tradition has gone on without much thought of where the tree comes from and how it gets here. It originates from Oslo’s municipal forest where its head forester selects the ‘queen’ and arranges its safe transit to London. The tree is usually about 50-60 years old and chosen and nurtured as the most magnificent specimen of its kind. It is cut during November in a ceremony that is attended by the British Ambassador to Norway, the Lord Mayor of Westminster and the Mayor of Oslo. It is then shipped to the UK and placed on a lorry for the final leg of its journey to Trafalgar Square.
It takes time and patience to get the tree in place but once up, there is another ceremony led by the Lord Mayor of Westminster. The tree is decorated in the traditional Norwegian fashion with vertical lines of energy-efficient light bulbs. At its base, there is a plaque, with the following inscription:
‘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.’
So, what happens to the Christmas tree after it is taken down? Simply put, it is chipped, mulched and recycled; a rather unceremonious end to its short reign over Trafalgar Square and the hearts of Londoners.
The tree lighting ceremony in Trafalgar Square occurs on the first Thursday in December. Why not join the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 7th December 2017 at 6pm for some carol singing and to enjoy a little piece of history.