EVERY Christmas, Norway gifts Britain a 20-metre tall spruce in thanks for our air during World War Two, in a tradition the country is unable to stop without looking a dick.
But did you know that the gesture also marks the beginning of the festive tradition of grabbing a random present at the last moment and hoping for the best?
Norwegian King Haakon VII, sheltering in Britain after his country was invaded by Nazi Germany, knew he owed his hosts a gift. He was also painfully aware that he had no money, no country and was frankly busy.
In his personal diaries the King wrote: “One was, as the locals here in the East End charmingly say, shit out of ideas.
“We took the carriage on a great pilgrimage to the Marks & Spencer, the Selfridges, the Debenhams. My footmen suggested various items, but no pair of novelty socks quite encapsulated ‘thank you for the political amnesty and apologies for causing you to lose an aircraft carrier.’
“Another member of the royal party suggested we try Fortnum & Mason. It was pointed out to her that while one is royalty, one is not made of money.
“It was my educated opinion that the five years spent here in exile would be enough time for something to simply come to me. I thought maybe something iconically Norwegian, but fjords or the aurora borealis are hard to wrap.
“During afternoon tea with His Majesty I was still coming up blank, when I happened to catch sight of a card bearing an image of a Christmas tree. That’s what we could send! Trees are one of my country’s great natural resources, alongside alcoholism.
“That, along with a few meaningful words about evergreens and branches and Christmas spirit, will be perfect. We will look deep and thoughtful and not cheap and lazy. And as the trees are free, I’ll promise to send one every year. I imagine they’ll get bored of it by about 1953 anyway.”
And so the festive tradition began, and King Haakon VII became the first man to discover unexpected December postage and packaging costs.
Next week: to 1960, when the Stasi in East Germany invented Secret Santa as a form of divisive psychological warfare.