LONDON (Reuters) - Norway's annual Christmas tree gift to London provoked unseasonably abrupt responses on Thursday, including demands that the 24-metre Norwegian spruce be replaced, after it appeared to be less than symmetrical with some broken branches.
Every year, a tree is felled outside Oslo and sent to London's Trafalgar Square as an offering of thanks from Norwegians for Britain's support during World War Two.
The Lord Mayor of Westminster Andrew Smith and Mayor of Oslo Marianne Borgen helped fell the 80-year-old Norwegian spruce along with schoolchildren on Nov. 16. It was transported by Norwegian authorities.
Reuters photographs show the tree has some broken branches. One side appears to have less growth than the other, though it was unclear when the damage was done.
The tree drew mirth on Twitter with some commenting that it was "threadbare", "half dead", or perhaps ill with COVID. Others said it was a symbol of modern British decline or speculated it might be an elaborate joke on Norway's part.
"Looks like last year's tree," James Carberry, 70, told Reuters on Trafalgar Square. Some said it looked "a bit sparse". Another simply said: "Yeah."
Others, though, said it was beautiful.
"It's the thought that counts," said Jasmine Smith, 30.
Westminster's Smith said it was understandable that some on social media had made "quick judgments".
"But I know that once it is lit the tree will, as ever, play its role in making Westminster an even more beautiful place to visit at Christmas," he said in a statement.
Criticism of the tree drew a diplomatic response from Oslo, which underscored the symbolism of the gift and that it originated in a forest.
"I am pleased that people are passionate - it is a sign that Londoners care about the present we have sent them," Mayor Borgen told Reuters. "The tree comes from a forest.
"This is a love tree and it means a lot to us to give it to Londoners. Though it started as a thank you to the British people for their help during World War Two, it is now as much about friendship, solidarity, hope for the future and peace.
"The tree symbolises all this and I hope that when the lights are turned on, the symbolic message behind the gift is what people have in mind."
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in London; additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Editing by Nick Macfie)