Norwegian Christmas generosity shows how Soft Power can come in many forms.
A huge Christmas tree once again stands proud over the Christmas market in Trafalgar Square. But this is not just any seasonal symbol. This tree is a gift from the people of Oslo to say thank you to the people of the London for their assistance during the darkest days of the Second World War. British soldiers and sailors fought side-by-side with Norway both in an attempt to resist the Nazi invasion and then at the end of the war to help with the liberation. Many Norwegians, including the royal family and the legitimate government in exile, had come to London for sanctuary in the years in between.
Every year since 1947 has seen a huge tree donated to stand in the centre of the heart of the UK capital as a symbol of good will between the two countries. Suitable trees are carefully chosen around a decade in advance and great care taken with their complicated transport by land and sea from Oslo to London.
The London tree is only one of several donated from Norway to various parts of the UK, including Edinburgh. Since Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary, a similar smaller tree has now been annually donated to the Foreign and Commonwealth office. This year’s was unveiled in a festive ceremony at which school children from the Norwegian school in London sang carols in English and Norwegian, supported by the FCO Choir.
This year’s tree in Trafalgar Square caused some light-hearted controversy due to what some felt was its unusual shape – until the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs rightly pointed out that this shape was in fact entirely normal for a healthy fully grown 69 foot Norwegian Spruce tree which is 80 years old. State Secretary Holte explained that the tree ‘is quintessentially Norwegian: unlike artificial and glitzy trees, it is honest and unpretentious. It perfectly symbolises our common effort as allies in the struggle against totalitarianism.’
As both an intelligent example of soft power – and as a reminder of the close friendship between two allies at the North West of Europe, the annual gift of the tree remains a potent symbol of successful cultural diplomacy – not to mention Christmas cheer.
The editorial team at Insight, who get to walk past the tree every day, are certainly pleased to say a big ‘tusen takk’ for an excellent Christmas tradition.
Alasdair Donaldson & Anna Duenbier, Insight, British Council