LONDON — For some people, Christmas is all about carols, presents, Santa Claus and his reindeer.
Not for Trevor Smith, for whom the highlight of the festive season is a tall, woody perennial fir that is dispatched every year from Norway to Britain: the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. This year, however, the tree is not a sight for sore eyes.
Just two years after Romans mocked their Christmas tree, nicknaming it Spelacchio — Mangy — it’s now Londoners’ turn to unite in their shared disappointment in the sparse spruce.
“I come every year, and this one is quite bare,” Mr. Smith, 73, said on Thursday, gazing at the thin, 79-foot tree standing at the foot of the National Gallery in Central London.
Like a child excitedly unwrapping presents on Christmas morning, Mr. Smith travels every year from his house near Heathrow International Airport to Trafalgar Square after the tree is erected just to get a glimpse.
“It’s absolutely a happy day,” he said, but added that this year’s tree “just looks a bit sad.”
Maybe the sea journey from Norway to Britain was too rough this year, he suggested, or climate change could be to blame.
“It’s probably a bit short of water; I think it needs a drink,” said another passer-by, Mark Wansborough-Jones, also 73.
The tree is an annual gift from the people of Oslo to London as a sign of gratitude for Britain’s help during World War II, the Westminster City Council said in an emailed statement. The tradition started in 1947, when King Haakon VII, who ruled Norway for 52 years, sent a tree as a thank-you gift to Britain, where he had escaped to after the Nazis invaded Norway.
Year in and year out, the fir’s sole decorations are strings of white Christmas lights, in accordance with the traditional Norwegian style, the council said. The lighting ceremony in London was to take place early Thursday evening.
“It is one of the highlights for every Lord Mayor to take part in this great festive event celebrating the enduring friendship between our nations,” Councilor Ruth Bush, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, said in a statement.
But the frail appearance of this year’s tree has dimmed the excitement for some ahead of the event.
Daniel Freduah-Gyimah, 27, who works at Heavens Grill, a Christmas market stall in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, said on Thursday that while the tree’s height was impressive, “It looks like a Christmas tree losing hair.”
Rory Loregnerd, his 58-year-old colleague, had a harsher assessment. “It’s dead,” he said, adding, “It’s a present from Norway, and it’s dead.”
He even suggested that the Norwegians probably sent this tree as a message against Brexit, despite Norway’s not being part of the European Union.
Like all other Christmas trees that end up in Trafalgar Square, this fir was grown in Ostmarka, a forested area east of Oslo, where people talk to and hug trees to encourage their growth, the council said.
In a foreboding twist, the 90-year-old tree was planted close to a small lake named Trollvann, or “the water of the trolls,” according to the council.
As the ridicule against the tree piled up on social media, a Trafalgar Square Tree account on Twitter fired off ripostes.
After a social media user on Monday called the fir the “most anemic tree possible,” the account replied, “I thought I’d left the trolls behind in Norway!”
As for the numerous social media users who called it “dead” or joked that “government cuts” were to blame for the sparse Christmas tree, the account replied, “At 80ft tall the tree will not look like the one in your living room.”
“Out of the ones we’ve seen, it’s not quite as impressive,” Kate Wynn, 36, an engineer who went to see the tree with her young daughter, said on Thursday in Trafalgar Square.
But not everyone hated the tree.
“It’s amazing!” her 6-year-old daughter, Imogen, exclaimed. “It’s huge,” the girl added. “It looks like it’s a million years old.”