Written for a Hetalia anon-meme as a response to the prompt: Each year since 1947, a Christmas tree has been given to the people of London from the people of Norway in gratitude for Britain's support for Norway during World War II.


Let Nothing You Dismay

Even after so many years, England still didn't quite know what to make of the Christmas tree that Norway sent him every December.

It wasn't as if it was a particularly exclusive gift. Not these days, at least -- Norway had been sending a similar tree to America as well for nearly two decades now. He'd seen it (or rather, America had dragged him over to show it off to him) in its place of pride in Union Station the last time he'd been in Washington in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It was a riot of lights and baubles and an inexplicable amount of Norwegian flag bunting, as enthusiastic and exuberant as everything America did. England's own tree in Trafalgar Square, brightly decorated as it was, looked positively restrained by comparison.

Norway could give trees to whomever he liked, of course; that wasn't the point.

Truthfully, the whole idea of receiving a tree as part of a gesture of friendship and gratitude for supporting Norway during the war felt like the belated punchline to a rather cruel joke. After all, his contribution to Norway's defence had been a valiant eff...a gallant and dedicated...no, it had been a right old balls-up, no matter how the historians might try to defend it. Two months of missed opportunities and squandered chances, capped off by a hasty retreat as yet another country was overrun by Germany's troops. England had even lost a boss over it -- granted, the poor bastard had been half-dead by that point, but his resignation had been a sad and ignoble end to a lifetime of service to his king and country. Even once the tide of the war began to turn in his favour, England found that he couldn't look out across the North Sea without feeling a twinge of bitterness deep in his heart.

Time hadn't entirely softened that bitterness.

Usually, he did his best to keep his mixed feelings about Norway's tree concealed beneath the same quiet, solemn dignity he drew upon for Remembrance Sunday services and the wreath-laying at the Cenotaph. But this year, when he travelled up to Immingham to oversee the unloading of the tree at the Norwegian cargo-ship docks, he found himself face to face with a irritated Norway who wasted no time in getting to the point.

'Look, d'you want me to stop this whole thing?' He waved a hand at the offloaded tree. 'I can find a suitable excuse next year, if that's your concern. Carbon footprint, shipping costs, the latest EU directive, whatever works for you.'

'Of course not!' England spluttered. 'Why-ever would you suggest such a thing?'

'Because you always look like I'm giving you a box of rotting fish every year?' Norway folded his arms across his chest. 'It's not about America's tree, is it? I know how he gets about gifts -- '

That prompted a low chuckle, as England shook his head. 'America, dear idiot boy that he is, would be thrilled to receive a package of toilet rolls wrapped in last Tuesday's newspaper if you told him it was the latest trend in ironic holiday gift-giving.' He almost hadn't believed it last year when America had so happily shown him the 'totally awesome present!' that Canada had sent; the lad really ought to know better than to take advantage of his brother like that. 'No, it isn't that.'

Norway raised an eyebrow in expectant, impatient silence.

England opened his mouth, then shut it. 'You wouldn't understand.'

'Try me.'

England fought back a sigh. With any other nation, it would be much easier to fall back on the first semi-plausible reason that popped into his head, some half-truth or even pure fiction that suited his purposes. He even knew how the others would react to whatever he said: France would respond with his usual full-body Gallic shrug, America's selective hearing would take care of the rest, Japan would nod with an inscrutability that bordered on self-parody, any of the Commonwealth countries would know better than to continue the line of enquiry. But Norway...Norway was different. He was too close to the fae for England to lie outright; it would be downright dangerous to even attempt it. But that aside, Norway deserved more than just the partial truth, especially with regard to something like this.

Which was the crux of the matter, wasn't it?

'If it helps at all,' Norway said suddenly, startling England out of his thoughts, 'there's another reason for the tree.'

England blinked. He hadn't even started to explain his reluctance over the first one. 'Another reason?'

'It's an appropriate gift, for the season.' A slight pause, as Norway's fathomless blue eyes clouded over briefly. 'For one who remembers the old ways.'

The old ways.

England's gaze drifted over to the tree, securely bundled in preparation for the long journey south, and he felt his throat close up. He still hung sprays of bright-berried holly and mistletoe in his house every year, the old protections as much a part of his wintertime rituals as mince pies and Boxing Day sales had become in more recent times. To not have seen Norway's tree in that light before...but now he could see it as he should have seen it, towering and evergreen at the heart of his capital city, its strands of white lights shining out against the long nights that marked the darkest, coldest days of the year....

He still felt the winter of '47 in his bones, sometimes.

'I see,' he said at last, with more feeling than usual. He looked back over at Norway, a new light in his eyes, and his voice took on a deeper resonance as he added, 'Thank you for the gift, and for the spirit in which it was given. It shall not be forgotten.'

Norway looked vaguely satisfied, or perhaps marginally less irritated; it was difficult to tell. Either way, he seemed to have accepted England's thanks.

'You should come for the cutting ceremony next year,' he said, so casually that England thought he'd misheard at first. 'There are a few...special preparations that I oversee before the tree is cut down. You might like to witness them.'

'I'd...I'd like that,' England said, slow and thoughtful. 'Very much, in fact.' His mouth twitched in a small smile. 'You'll let me know when to stop by?'

'I will.' Norway held his gaze for a moment longer, then he turned back to the tree and waved a dismissive hand. 'Go on, then, get it out of here and set it up. It won't keep forever.'

'No,' England agreed, a little wistfully. 'It will not keep forever.'

But it will last, his heart said, for as long as we remember it.

***

Notes:

More on the Trafalgar Square tree: http://www.norway.org.uk/ARKIV/Other/news/christmastree/
More on the Union Station tree: http://www.norway.org/News_and_events/Culture/Festivals--Heritage/Norwegian-Christmas-Tree-at-Union-Station/
More on the British campaign in Norway during World War II: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/norway_campaign_01.shtml

The 'Norway Debate' in the British House of Commons (7-8 May 1940), during which Neville Chamberlain's Conservative Government was roundly criticised for its inept handling of the Norwegian campaign, led to a vote of confidence that the government only narrowly won. Having essentially lost the confidence of his own party, the ailing Chamberlain resigned the premiership two days later, and was succeeded by Winston Churchill. (Chamberlain died of bowel cancer barely six months later, in November 1940.)

The winter of 1946-47, one of the worst winters to hit the United Kingdom in decades, caused massive snowfalls and cold spells from December through March that severely crippled the nation's recovery from the war. The first Trafalgar Square Christmas tree arrived the following winter, in December 1947.


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