Trafalgar Square Christmas tree given new life with ‘branch transplant’

Trafalgar Square Christmas tree in three stages or transit
The tree has been ‘shaken out’ and given a makeover in time for Thursday's lights switch-on

Plastic Christmas trees are, as everyone knows, somewhat naff. But a real tree that’s had plastic surgery? Well, that’s just what’s happened to Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree, transforming it from a rather threadbare and sad-looking specimen of a Norwegian spruce to a… spruced up spruce.

The Trafalgar Square fir - perhaps the world’s most famous Christmas tree - was given a makeshift branch “transplant” after it arrived in London in a rather sorry state.

The tree - as it has for the last 70 years or so - made the 1,000-mile journey from Oslo to London, arriving in Trafalgar Square the worse for wear.

One side of the tree was almost branchless, giving it a lopsided effect. The solution, devised by some clever tree surgeons, was to take some pre-cut green branches and hammer them into place on the other side.

This step also helped the tree to fit back into its stand and the crew in the cherry picker then unfurled the branches flattened during transit to help restore it to its natural look.

Branches of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree
Branches of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree were chopped down to pad out the bare other side - Jeremy Selwyn/SelwynPics

For more than 70 years, Norway has given Britain a giant Christmas tree as a token of thanks for this country’s assistance in defeating the Nazis during the Second World War and liberating Norway from German occupation.

This year’s tree - some 62ft high - attracted a good degree of scorn when it was first hoisted off the flatbed lorry, having been driven from Oslo’s Nordmarka forest via lorry to the port of Brevik where it was loaded onto a ship to the UK. Following a short stay at UK customs, another lorry transported it to London.

One side of the tree was brown and stripped of pine needles. Norwegian foresters who had selected it were happy when it left the homeland, describing it as the “queen of the forest”. It was felled on November 25, taking ten days to reach London.

But when photos emerged on social media showing the tree being hoisted into place with a hydraulic crane, one user quipped: “where’s the other half of it”.

Another said: “Ok, own up, who switched out the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree for one from Wish mid-journey?” in reference to the cut-price online marketplace.

Janet Ward simply wrote: “Oh dear” while another added: “Is it me, or does it look quite dead?”

Tree surgeons contracted by the Greater London Authority stepped in to perform a so-called “branch transplant” where pre-cut healthier green branches are hammered into place where the tree is threadbare, achieving a fuller, more symmetrical look.

Dan Barker, a business consultant who filmed the process, said it resembled going to “Turkey for a hair transplant”.

He said: “They have done a really good job... they have taken the branches off and then hammered them into other places. It is a neat hair transplant… they have made it look very very nice.”

An official account on Twitter, now known as X, of the Trafalgar Square Tree, pushed back at those questioning its initial less than impressive appearance, writing: “Looks like you spoke too soon, look at me now! Also, it’s not always about what’s on the outside, this is a beautiful tradition which I hope will carry on for years to come.”

Patricia McAllister, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, who saw the tree being felled in Norway, said: “This year’s Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree has arrived in Trafalgar Square and she is looking fantastic.

“The team are on site all day shaking the tree out after its long journey and getting ready for Thursday’s switch-on.”

The tradition of the tree from Norway has taken place every year since 1947, with a ceremony held in Norway every November when the tree is felled.

The event this year was hosted by Oslo Mayor Anne Lindboe who was seen helping saw down the tree alongside Jan Thompson, the British Ambassador to Norway.

The Norwegian Embassy in London has been approached for comment.

The tree has had a recent history of complaints. Over the past two years, Londoners have criticised the quality of the Christmas trees given by Norway.

In 2021, the disquiet threatened to break out into a diplomatic row with calls in Britain for Norway to send a replacement after the 80-year-old spruce was widely mocked for its “scrawny” and “neglected” appearance.

It generated a frosty response from Norwegian officials who refused to entertain the suggestion.

Workers decorating the Norwegian spruce
Workers decorating the Norwegian spruce - Matthew Chattle/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Lars Anton, an Oslo citizen, said at the time: “All the British gave us last Christmas was the Kent variant. If they don’t want the tree we can come and get it back.”

Marianne Borgen, the Socialist Left politician, said two years ago: “People complain all the time. In 2019 I was told it looked like a cucumber.

“In the end, the tree is not really a tree at all, it’s a symbol of solidarity and friendship. It comes from the forest that embraces Oslo on all sides.

“So while it might arrive with injuries, it remains a gift of love.”

Londoners similarly mocked the tree in 2022 on social media after it appeared rather skinny and threadbare.

One person said: “Judging by the photos of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree being felled last week in Norway and arriving today, it’s been transported as hand luggage on Ryanair.”

Last month, councillors in Cambridgeshire defended the off-kilter Christmas tree on display in the market town of March, going as far as comparing it to the “beautiful Leaning Tower of Pisa”.

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