Christmas in Trafalgar Square 2011

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The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has been a seasonal symbol in London since 1947. It takes pride of place in the square until January, when it is taken down for recycling. The tree is decorated in traditional Norwegian fashion, using vertical strings of energy-efficient bulbs, which are being switched on at a ceremony on December 1 by the Mayor of Oslo with the Lord Mayor of Westminster. 'Carols for Good Causes' are performed beside the tree by a wide variety of London groups each evening from December 5 to 22 (for details see www.london.gov.uk/carol-singing). The tree is a gift from the Norwegians to the British and there's a remarkable story behind this traditional present-giving. During WWII, German troops besieged Norway and in 1940 the neutral country was forced to surrender to the Nazis. Its royal family, government and defence chiefs fled to London, where they established a government-in-exile. For almost five years they were given refuge here while Norwegian soldiers fought alongside the Allies. London came to represent hope and freedom for the millions in occupied Norway, who listened to British radio broadcasts which provided news and information vital to the resistance movement. That's why the people of Oslo now give London the tree. Fondly described by the woodsmen who care for it as 'the queen of the forest', it can reach up to 25m in height and is between 50 and 100 years old. It's felled in November in a special ceremony in the midst of a snowy forest, with local schoolchildren singing. Once it's been shipped across the North Sea and installed, its official illumination takes place in early December.

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