The first tree was brought over in 1947 as a token of Norwegian appreciation of British friendship during the Second World War. When Norway was invaded by German forces in 1940, King Haakon VII escaped to Britain and a Norwegian exile government was set up in London.
To most Norwegians, London came to represent the spirit of freedom during those difficult years. From London, the latest war news was broadcast in Norwegian, along with a message and information network which became vital to the resistance movement and which gave the people in Norway inspiration and hope of liberation.
The tree has become a symbol of the close and warm relationship between the people of Britain and Norway. Norwegians are happy and proud that this token of their friendship, probably the most famous Christmas tree in the world, seems to have become so much a part of Christmas for Londoners. The tree itself, a Norwegian spruce (Picea abies), is chosen with great care. Selected from the forests surrounding Oslo, it is normally earmarked for its pride of place in Londons Trafalgar Square several months, even years, in advance. The Norwegian foresters who look after it describe it fondly as 'the queen of the forest'.
The tree is cut down in November during a ceremony in which the Lord Mayor of Westminster, the British ambassador to Norway and the Mayor of Oslo take active part. Most years, the first snow will have just fallen to brighten the otherwise dark forest. Local and international schoolchildren sing Christmas carols and the city authorities serve 'forest coffee' and sandwiches. The tree, which is usually 20 to 25 mts (70 ft) in height and anything between 50 and 60 years old, is then shipped free-of-charge across the North Sea. A special crew is contracted to haul it from the docks to Trafalgar Square and the space which is allocated every year to the Norwegian Christmas tree.
It takes several hours to put the tree up. Scaffolding is erected, the tree is winched up, and the base of its trunk pushed four feet into the ground and secured with a dozen or more wooden wedges and there is no other form of support. The tree stands there again as it did in the forest, as a reminder that at least one European country still remembers the help and support given by the peoples of Britain during the dark days of the war.