Published May 21, 2014
Every year since 1951 the city of Oslo has presented the city of Reykjavík with a goddamn enormous spruce tree, which is erected every year in the square in front of the parliament building a few weeks before Christmas. As well as Reykjavík, Oslo has also sent trees to Rotterdam and London. On April 7 of this year, Fabian Stang, the mayor of Oslo, announced that Reykjavík and Rotterdam would not be receiving Christmas trees anymore. Icelanders, generations of whom were brought downtown by their parents to see the ceremonial lighting of the tree, referred to as “The Oslo Tree,” took this pretty hard.
It’s just a tree. How badly can you take something like that?
Norwegians are barely considered foreigners by Icelanders. Heck, they are pretty much considered family. In the Icelandic media Norwegians are routinely referred to as “our cousins.” So Icelanders basically took this like you would if your grandmother decided not to give you a Christmas present this year and called to tell you in April.
And she also told you that she’s still going to give presents to your older, richer cousin London.
Who is not even properly related! The decision by Mayor Stang stung even worse in light of the fact that Oslo bureaucrats originally recommended that Oslo discontinue all its annual gifts of Christmas trees, but Mayor then decided to make an exception for London because “the London tree is a central part of Norway’s history and a symbol of friendship with the British that we will do everything in our power to continue.”
I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if hundreds of thousands of Icelandic hearts broke in two and stopped beating.
Yes, Fabian Stang, whose name and looks are reminiscent of a low-ranking officer on the Death Star, really managed to strike at the core of Icelandic national sensitivities. And the Icelandic reaction was perhaps a tad too much. Icelanders flooded internet comment sections, all major media published multiple articles, and the newspaper Morgunblaðið printed an editorial cartoon which showed a giant hand with a raised middle finger in the traditional place of the Oslo Tree.
That could be left up all year as it’s a very appropriate symbol of all family holidays.
The mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, responded on his Facebook page by saying: “Sad. But what has Iceland ever done for Norway? Well, we wrote their story and Heimskringla was the foundation for the independence of Norway in 1905. But who cares about some old books anyway?” During the Middle Ages, Icelandic scholars wrote accounts of Norwegian history, most famously in Heimskringla (“World Globe”) by Snorri Sturluson. Icelanders feel that Norwegians owe them for having written up and preserved their ancient history.
Not to be a slave to time or anything but weren’t the Middle Ages kind of a long time ago? What have Icelanders given Norway lately?
Since Norway has billions of barrels of oil, finding a gift for the country is a bit like trying to find a birthday present for a cousin who owns billions of barrels of oil. That is a part of the Icelandic attitude toward Norway. They are the cousin who struck it rich. Icelanders try to feel superior, thinking of Norwegians as less cool, uncultured and boring. Not to mention unable to write up their own history.
Nobody likes jealous people.
The suspicion that Norway just does not like Iceland has been sneaking up on Icelanders recently. Earlier this year Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and the European Union were negotiating for fishing rights over mackerel. After a lengthy round of meetings, the Icelandic delegation went home, declaring that everyone had agreed that the negotiations were over because Norway refused to come to terms with everyone else. Four days later, Norway, the Faroe Islands and the EU announced that they had reached an agreement between themselves about mackerel fishing rights.
Ouch! That’s like leaving a party at midnight because your friends tell you it’s over but then seeing pictures on Facebook the next day of everyone dancing until morning.
And the pictures are all called Most Fun Party Ever. Icelanders are used to thinking of themselves as the cool Nordics, but maybe we are the boring guy who everyone else has to send home before the fun can start. You know, the guy who keeps demanding free beer because he did you a favour in the Middle Ages.