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Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is 65 today!

Last night, the lights on the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square were be turned on. The big lighting up ceremony always takes place on the first Thursday in December at 6pm promptly, with lots of pomp, ceremony and VIPs.

This is the 65th year running that Trafalgar Square has had a Christmas tree and will remain, lit, from noon until midnight every day, until ‘twelfth night’ on January 6th, when it will be taken down, chipped, composted and used as mulch around the parks and gardens of the City of Westminster. The 20m (60ft), 46 year old Norwegian Spruce has been on a long journey to arrive at this point.

The Christmas tree is selected by the forestry workers in the forest of Østmarka, just outside Oslo, months or maybe years before it is due to take its starring role in Trafalgar Square. They often fondly refer to the tree as ‘the queen of the forest’. This year on November 18th the tree was felled amid a ceremony attended by the British Ambassador, with the Mayor of Oslo and the Lord Mayor of Westminster making the first, initial ceremonial cut. The tree is then carefully felled by the forestry workers who have cared for the tree all its life. Carols before and after the tree is felled are sung by local school children from Lutvann primary school. The tree is then carefully loaded up by crane onto a very large flat-bed truck and is transported by sea to the UK where the final leg of the journey is on the back of another big flat-bed truck. The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square is then craned into place, decorated by municipal workers and a cherry picker, with over 500 low emission, energy saving, white halogen lights which are arranged in the Norwegian tradition of straight, vertical lines from top to bottom.

As many of you already know, this tree is given to the people of London by the city of Oslo, Norway in gratitude for our assistance’ during 1940-1945. There is a plaque placed beneath the tree stating this. The less diplomatic explanation of this, is that during the 2nd World War, when Nazi Germany were invading Norway, King Haakon VII fled his country and was welcomed into Britain, where he set up a Norwegian government in exile. Britain welcomed many more Norwegians who fled across the sea to the safety of the British Isles and therefore this is the reason for their annual generous gift.

Last year the Christmas tree was set alight by protestors during the student riots, but due to the tree being fresh and therefore difficult to burn, there was little damage. Hopefully this year’s tree will have a less dramatic experience and will have to endure nothing more than some overzealous festive seasonal cheer.


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Responsible Christmas Tree custodians required


Every year we, here in the UK, buy 8 million live Christmas trees. Every
year we, here in the UK, throw away 8 million dead Christmas trees! FACT.
How much space, do you think, is taken up in our precious land fill sites by
8 million dead Christmas trees? A heck of a lot – that’s for sure. So how
do we overcome this prickly problem?

Firstly, when we buy our Christmas tree, we take time to carefully choose
our fireside companion. We buy the one we like the look of the most, the
best looking tree we can find, we are choosing a Christmas tree partner, in
fact, one that will accompany us through the whole party season and still
look cheerful, bright and festive even when we’re reaching for the aspirin.
When we get it home we spend time carefully decorating it to make it the
centre of attraction. Sometimes we may adorn it with decorations that we
have had since we were small children, only to feel the nostalgia of long
forgotten Christmases past flooding back. Or perhaps we go to a department
store and spend a king’s ransom on new decorations, carefully colour
coordinating balls, bows, ribbons and lights to make our new house guest
dressed to kill. We then bestow our precious gifts beneath it’s boughs for
safe keeping until the big day arrives.

When the presents have long been opened, receipts swapped and the old year
sent packing, our once enthusiastically welcomed guest is stripped of it’s
fine garments and tossed unceremoniously out of the house like an odious,
ungrateful relative who has outstayed their welcome. Why would you discard
your Christmas tree friend thus, what has this tree done to be so cruelly
tossed away? Why can we not bestow one last act of Christmas good will and
kindness upon our once loved Christmas tree everlasting life?

Chistmas treesThroughout London and in many other boroughs and counties across the UK
trees are found tossed into canals, dumped in street bins and loitering,
unloved on street corners, but there is another way, if only we could just
make one more little bit of effort we could recycle our ex flat mates and
house guests to give life again. In London alone, 27 of the 33 boroughs are
offering a collect-from-home service to pick up the trees (shame on you the
six who are not). Some are even offering to take Christmas trees still in
their stands, with all their decorations still on, for those who are either
too busy, lazy or rich, to undress their tree. These trees will then be
taken off to be shredded (without decorations) turned into compost which
will then be distributed to the various parks within the local borough.

For those of you not lucky enough to have this service provided by your
local authority there are other things which you can do to go green with a
Christmas Tree. If you cut off all the branches with a pair of secateurs
you can compost the smaller ones which breakdown surprisingly quickly.
Slightly larger branches placed out of sight at the back of the border, they
will eventually rot down but in the meantime make great homes for insects.
If you’re insect inclined, try cutting all the branches off to leave just
the trunk, then cutting the trunk up into short, even length sections and
drilling random length holes up into the stem then placing into wooden box
to hold into position – this makes a brilliant bee-hotel.

On a more industrial sized scale, there are some great ideas coming from our
American cousins across the pond. Take one large fishing lake, ask all of
the locals to load the ‘Ute’ with their unwanted tree and bring it down to
the lake where they will gratefully take it off your hands. The trees are
then roped together and tied to heavy cinder blocks and dropped into the
middle of the lake to take residence at the bottom of the lake. The trees
make fabulous nurseries for the fry (baby fish) to hide from larger
predators and within a short period of time attract algae and insects for
the young fish to feed on, creating even greater diversity in the lake. In
coastal areas where sand erosion is a problem, old Christmas trees are tied
or buried next to fences. This causes sand to collect around the trees as
they form a natural wind break and in time this turns into a sand dune, this
in turn gives a foothold for grasses, insects and birds and becomes a
natural non-eroding habitat again.

All in all, if in doubt about the fate of your Christmas companion, ring
your local authority who will advise you on the times, dates and places to
give your tree a new purpose in life.


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The custom of decorating Christmas Trees

With all the amazing London Christmas tree decorations that are available for us to buy these days, don’t you ever wonder what we all did before you could just wander into your local big retail outlet and buy ready made items in exactly the right colour scheme to complement your carpet, curtains or even the cat?

The custom of decorating one’s home during what we now think of as the Christmas period goes a long way back to pre-Christian Roman times when people would bring evergreens into their homes during the winter.  In the 7th Century a priest called Boniface from Crediton, Devon went to Thuringia in Germany to teach the word of God.  Legend has it, that he used the triangular shape of a fir tree to emphasise the Holy Trinity.  This idea developed slowly through the centurys and eventually evolved into what we all call the Christmas Tree.

Now, we may all consider that we’re very sophisticated here in the 21st Century, but in Germany they were having Christmas Markets back in the 16th Century.  Here you could buy everything you needed from the Christmas Goose to the Christmas presants and even the Christmas Tree decorations.  These would be sold as souvenirs in the form of shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments that you would take home and hang on your Christmas tree.  One historical record of a traveller to Strasbourg in 1601, describes a Christmas tree being decorated in “wafers and golden sugar-twists (barleysugar) and paper flowers of all colours”.  However, here in Britain we were somewhat reluctant to uphold the German tradition of a Christmas Tree due to our dislike of our German Georgian monarchy until the reign of Queen Victoria when, ironically, her German consort Albert, introduced the practice at Windsor Castle.

Back in the 18th Centrury, decorations were all made by hand by, yes, you’ve guessed it, the women and children of the household.  In early Victorian times when money wasn’t exactly growing on Christmas Trees and the nights were long, families would sit around in the evening making decorations from what they had available.   Women would toil for hours, crocheting snowflakes and stars with the children making coloured paper chains.  Many of the ornaments on trees were of the edible kind such as sugared almonds, dried fruits and nuts in little paper baskets.  Later on candles were added to brighten the tree, with this came items made in the shape of stars, leaves and fruit made from polished tin or brigtly coloured paper to reflect the candle light thus adding light and sparkle to the tree.

As Christmases came and went, decorations for Christmas trees began to get more sophisticated and as the nations wealth improved tinsel and glass ornaments were imported from Germany.  These became a status symbol and for a while Christmas trees even became patriotic with the nation’s flag used as the tree topper!  Decorating your Christmas tree became a national obsession, Christmas trees became floor standing therefore bigger to allow for even more decorations to be crammed on and things began to get very gaudy with every decoration conceivable from tinsel to toys and candy to candles being placed on the overladen branches.

Thankfully, after Queen Victoria died things calmed down a little and Christmas trees became less of a status symbol.  They were repositioned on table tops and with advent 1st world war German decorations became obsolete with Japanese and American suppliers stepping in smartly to supply the new electric lights and much cheaper plastic decorations.  After WW2, when the ban of cutting trees for decoration was lifted, Britain embraced the Christmas tree with relish and for the first time were able to buy British decorations made by Swanbrand and sold by F W Woolworths.

In the ‘60’s things some people went a bit crazy with silver aluminium trees imported from America which needed no decorations as they were lit from below by revolving coloured lights – who needed LSD?   During the 70’s lurid glass balls, tinsel and multi coloured lights were sticking to the trees like resin.  Thankfully, the 80’s came and we all saw the error of our ways.  Tinsel was tossed out, multi coloured lights were mutilated and bows and bead garlands appeared – we had gone full circle – Victoriana was back!

Today, we are spoiled for choice and almost anything goes, so spare a thought for our ancesters with their sugared almonds and gingerbread men when you’re buying your multi coloured, flashing LED lights.  We’ve never had it so good… have we?


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Choosing the perfect Christmas Tree

How can you achieve the perfect Christmas tree for your perfect Christmas? These days, there seems to be a Christmas tree outlet in every pub car park in every town, but where do all these trees come from and are they any good?

The Christmas tree market is immense, with over 8 million trees being bought in the UK alone and the whole of Europe bringing the total up to a staggering 50 million live trees, leaving the United States trailing behind with a woeful 35 million. Many of the UK’s trees are grown in Central and Western Europe although hundreds of thousands of Christmas trees are now grown all over the UK and Northern Ireland. The type and variety of tree is immense leaving the consumer somewhat baffled for choice. One part of the great debate is whether to buy a live or a fake tree? The British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA) have produced a report with findings that live Christmas trees are 5 times more environmentally friendly than their artificial rivals. Argument solved!

To achieve the perfect beginning for your tree, the first thing to do is carefully consider where the Christmas Tree should be placed. Make sure it isn’t in a busy area with people passing, that it won’t be continually knocked or pulled by over-enthusiastic little hands. Keep it well away from all sources of heat – sunny windows, fireplaces, radiators etc. Live trees HATE central heating and will dry out and drop their needles quicker than a pantomime dame can drop an innuendo. Therefore, choose a place where there is no radiator or where the radiator can be turned off for the whole time the tree is up. Also, make sure your tree is near a power point as cables trailing across the room is not advisable. Once you have decided on the position of your tree, measure the area – front to back, side to side as well as height – there’s nothing more frustrating than a tree that’s too big for the room.

Choose a tree that has been freshly cut, from a local supplier who you know and trust. Every year, more and more Christmas trees  are stolen from Christmas Tree farms across the UK by people who want to make a quick buck for little effort. To tell if a tree is fresh, look carefully at the needles, are they fresh, bright green and shiny? Holding the tree upright, drop it onto it’s base a couple of times, is there a lot of needle drop, if so, walk away and find another that doesn’t drop. Take a good, long look at the overall shape. Is it well balanced, is the trunk straight, are the branches evenly spaced, is the top bushy, will the base fit into your stand? After you’ve chosen your tree, you will need to somehow get it home without bending it or breaking the branches so ask your supplier to ‘net’ your tree for you, this will contain all of the branches into a manageable sausage shape until you get home.

To keep your tree upright, you will need a wide, heavy, quality stand – this is something that is worth spending good money on, as it will last for years and save hours of frustration trying to get the tree fixed into an perfectly vertical, stable position. It is essential to buy a stand that will allow you to water the tree.

Once you have got your Christmas tree home, cut 1-2 inches off the bottom with sharp saw making sure that the cut is perfectly horizontal. Trees are living things and like flowers, after they have been cut from their roots the stem/trunk will seal up to prevent moisture loss. Place the tree, (still in it’s string vest) into the stand and with the aid of your appointed Christmas tree elf, ensure that the tree is firmly fixed into the stand. Postion the tree exactly where you want it and carefully remove all of the netting – turning the tree until you have found the best side for the front. Gently press down on the branches to achieve a pleasing, balanced shape. Now your tree is ready for you to dress in whatever style you may choose. Good Luck!

If this all sounds like too much hard work – you can always call in a professional to make life that little bit easier.


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How Christmas trees evolved

Towards the end of every year, much of our surroundings, our homes, offices, shops, restaurants and pubs are descended upon by the strange phenomena of a simple Spruce tree festooned with bright, shiny, sparkly and to be honest, sometimes gaudy objects and manifests itself as The Christmas Tree. This hugely diverse collection of decorated Christmas Trees make their annual appearance anytime from September on due to the pressures of commerce. These noble fir trees have been strategically placed into our lives for the entertainment of generations of children and adults alike for the last 500 odd years and have travelled a long road from humble beginnings to become the star of the show that we all know and love.

The first Christmas tree recorded was in the country we now know as Estonia. In the city of Tallin in 1441 a Spruce tree was erected by the somewhat unattractively named ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ in the square in front of the Town Hall for the festive season. Later on, the tradition of putting up Christmas trees for the young folk to sing and dance around became common practice, however once the festivities were over, the poor tree was then set alight! By 1570 the good people of Bremen, Germany were decorating Christmas trees with apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers as gifts for the smaller children to collect on Christmas day.

Moving forward a couple of hundred years or so, to the late 18th Century, candles were starting to appear amongst the branches of Christmas trees, but the Christmas tree custom was still mainly confined to the Prussian Protestant families of the upper Rhineland region. However, the Christmas tree tradition was transported to Canada in 1781 by the Brunswick soldiers who were stationed in Quebec to ward off the unwanted advances of the Americans during the American Revolutionary War.

During the 18th Century Christmas trees became popular within the nobility of Europe with the first recorded Christmas trees arriving here in the UK with George III and his German wife Charlotte in the early 19th Century – no doubt in an attempt to keep their 13 children amused!

However, the tradition was still kept under royal wraps until a wood-cut (print) of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book (a popular lady’s magazine in Philadelphia) in 1850, with the couple having been carefully ‘photo-shopped’ to remove Victoria’s tiara and Alberts moustache to make them more appealing to the American public. Astonishingly, within just 20 years of this publication, having a Christmas tree in one’s home in America was commonplace. From then on, the creative Americans took Christmas tree decorating to another level by adding candy canes, paper ornaments and even tin stars.

Nowadays, the humble little fir tree has turned into a fully grown Giant Redwood. They are no long a naked tree awaiting a fiery funeral in the town square, they are strategically positioned in public buildings, lofted high on street lamposts, in the corners of café’s, residing in restaurants and even dancing on the dashboards of delivery vans. These days, they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, some have colourful fibre optic needles, others come in lurid pinks and purples and some people have even turned the whole thing on it’s head, literally – and display them standing upside down!


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