Forget the John Lewis Christmas advert: as far as traditions go, the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree given to Britain by Norway is one of the most established and deeply symbolic parts of the British festive season. Since 1947 the gift has been given every December as a token of friendship between the two nations, and to express Norway’s gratitude for Britishsupport during World War II.
In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded neutralNorway in a surprise attack, overcoming the ill-prepared Norwegian forces and beginning a period of occupation that would last until the very end of the war in 1945. Whilst officially the pro-German Quisling government held power, they were effectively a puppet government for the Reichskommissariat Norwegen, a Nazi administrative office for the occupied country. Within a month of the beginning of the invasion, the legitimate government and the Royal Family were forced to flee on HMS Glasgow to Britain, where they later established the exiled government in London. The exiled government’s main role during these five years was one of resistance; King Haakon VII in particular became an important figure of hope for Norwegians against the Nazi occupiers. The King attended weekly cabinet meetings and regularly broadcast speeches through the BBC which were heard across Norway. A month after the surrender of Nazi Germany, the cabinet and the Royal Family returned in June to Oslo, where they were met with the great joy of the Norwegian people and officially reinterred as the legal establishment.
Through providing the Royal Family and the government an escape as well as an adopted base, Britain allowed the Norwegian government to resist rather than collaborate with the Nazi regime, preserving the hopes of the relatively young nation and allowing the government to assume its rightful position of governance at the end of the war.The first trees that were sent to Britain were actually in 1943 from Norwegian underground fighters as asymbol of their gratefulness, which were given to the Norwegian king, the Norwegian embassy and one for display in Trafalgar Square.It was only after the war in 1947 that the process took on the precedence and custom currently associated with it. Today, ‘the most famous Christmas tree in Britain’ attracts thousands of visitors due to its prominent placement in Trafalgar Square. It serves as a reminder of the warm relationship between Norway and Britain and of the role Britain played in ensuring the continuance of the democratic principles and independence of the Norwegian state.