“Are we at war with Norway now?” tweeted one wag in a post that went viral, with an accompanying photo of Trafalgar Square’s traditional Christmas tree, an annual gift from the people of Oslo since 1947 to thank Londoners for their support during the second world war. Conspiracy theorists posited that the tree’s state was a response to the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by Manchester United football club. “I would like everyone to know that half of my branches are not missing — they are socially distancing,” responded the tree’s official Twitter account (yes, really), maintained by Westminster Council. This year’s spruce is too sparse, according to public opinion. So much for British manners.
Britain’s relations with its neighbours are not in good shape. The entente with France is feeling a lot less cordial. A post-Brexit protocol is a source of tension with Ireland, the only other country with which the UK shares a land border. Right now the UK needs all the friends it can muster. Yet, when a token of enduring accord through adversity is proffered across the North Sea, it is met with churlish disdain. The rapacious Vikings were barely less welcome.
Trafalgar Square, presided over by Nelson’s Column, has seen its fair share of battles over what is displayed in it, normally reserved for the choice of sculpture for its fourth, empty plinth. But such was the strength of feeling over the alleged inadequacy of this year’s tree that Oslo Council held a vote on Wednesday on whether to replace it. Councillors rightly voted against such foliage folly. The mayor of Oslo, Marianne Borgen, was summoned for an interview on the BBC’s Today programme over the fracas. With indulgent patience, Borgen explained to listeners that the 90-year-old tree was freely grown in a forest outside Oslo, and is not a “Disney tree, not a plastic tree”. It looked lovely at the felling ceremony, attended by the Lord Mayor of Westminster, but she conceded there may have been a bit of damage during transit.
Which sparked debate as to whether it was environmentally friendly to ship a tree from Norway at all. Perhaps Londoners should pick instead an artificial tree that can be used year after year, as long as they could commit to using the same one for a decade in order to bring its carbon footprint vaguely in line with a pine’s. Or is it better to rent annually a potted tree which, once it becomes too big, gets to live out the rest of its days in a forest? Why have an actual tree at all when you could own an NFT image of one — an NFTree, perhaps? This crypto art can be yours for the bargainous price of 0.048 ether, or $207 (at the time of print).
As it happens, NFTs are not at all environmentally friendly as they are bought on marketplaces using cryptocurrencies, normally ethereum. The computer power required to authenticate purchases is incredibly energy-hungry, even if there are emerging attempts to offset NFTs’ carbon footprints.
But such considerations are hardly in keeping with the generosity of spirit with which Norway gives the Trafalgar Square tree. This is the time of year when there are countless guides to buying presents. Perhaps more are needed on the art of receiving them. There may be so few because such guides would not be very long: say thank you, even if you plan on regifting or sending the present to charity. The old adages are worth remembering: it is the thought that counts; it is through giving that we receive, and through receiving that we give. Besides, if this year’s tree is sparser than in other years, have we not all had enough needles in 2021?