In New York, Washington, London, Newcastle, Berlin and more Christmas trees from Norway are lit to celebrate the beginning of advent. In some cities Festival of Trees are organised around the decoration and display of multiple trees as charity events. In these cases the trees represent special commemorative gifts. The tradition has various backgrounds and reasons and some quite old. Let’s start with Norway in itself:
Lighting the Christmas tree the first Sunday in Advent in the local community has a long tradition in Norway. We are going into the darkest period of the year (5 hours of daylight) and need something delightful to look forward to you know :-)
Actually these celebrations are from thousands of years ago: To celebrate their belief in the powers of the Gods, the Norsemen (Vikings) held festivals. The father of the Gods was Odin or Thor, commonly called the Yule Father (Yule referred to the sun).
But back to modern times, Advent and Christmas trees: Above is a picture (click to bigify and enjoy), from our community where the local marching band (with “Nisseluer” = Santa clause hats) playing while parents and siblings are dancing around the tree.
So to share this tradition and to strengthen the friendship bonds, Norway sends Christmas trees all around the world. Here are some of the places:
UK – London and Newcastle:
At Trafalgar Square, the Christmas tree is perhaps the most important symbol of Britain and Norway’s warm relationship. 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.
In Newcastle upon Tyne, where the 15 m tall main civic Christmas tree is an annual gift from the city of Bergen, Norway, in thanks for the part played by soldiers from Newcastle in liberating Bergen from Nazi occupation.
US – New York and Washington:
The Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York is an annual Christmas tree erected and lit in early December or late-November, and has been broadcast on NBC in recent years. The tree, usually a Norway spruce 75 to 90 feet (23 to 27 m) tall, has been put up every year since 1931. The tradition began during the Depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center, when workers decorated a small balsam fir tree with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans”, as recounted by Daniel Okrent in his history of Rockefeller Center.
Norway also annually gifts a Christmas tree to Washington D.C. as a symbol of friendship between Norway and the US and as an expression of gratitude from Norway for the help received from the US during World War II.
Germany – Berlin:
Last Sunday Norwegian Christmas trees where lit at the Pariser Platz at the Brandenburg Gate. This year, the two foreign ministers Jonas Gahr Støre, Guido Westerwelle and the Governing Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit and the mayor of Frogn, Thore Vestby from Norway (where the tree came from) lit the lights of the fir tree and held speeches to mark the 20th anniversary of the event. It’s said that the German foreign minister, Westerwelle even surprised the audience even with a few sentences in Norwegian.
Do you have a Festival of Trees tradition in your local area, or maybe you’ve seen or heard about lightening a Christmas tree from Norway? If so, we would love to hear about it in your comments to this post.