A tree decorated with flags and friendship

Music, speeches, and Santa marked the 20th Norwegian Christmas tree to light up DC

the Norwegian American Christmas tree lighting

Photo courtesy of the
Royal Norwegian Embassy
After five years of construction in Union Station’s Great Hall, the impressive tree is back where it belongs.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

The Norwegian Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Union Station is a holiday tradition in Washington, D.C. Norway presents a tree to the people of Washington to show its gratitude for the assistance of the United States during and after World War II and to recognize the continuing strong friendship between the two countries. The ceremony celebrated its 20th anniversary on November 30 this year.

The Master of Ceremonies was Robert Aubrey Davis, the popular creator and host of the radio program “Millennium of Music,” who has been the event’s enthusiastic MC for several years.

Music set the festive tone. The Carolers of Greater Washington alerted the audience that the ceremony was about to start by taking the stage and singing several traditional Christmas songs.

The ceremony officially began when Davis introduced lyric mezzosoprano Sissel Bakken, who movingly sang the Norwegian national anthem, and Norway’s Jardar Johansen, who passionately sang the Star-Spangled Banner.

Davis then introduced Kåre Aas, Norway’s Ambassador to the United States, who welcomed the assembled crowd and expressed his pleasure that the event had returned to the Great Hall inside the station. For the previous five years, it had been held outside because of the work going on to repair the damage to the ceiling from the 2011 earthquake. This year the scaffolding had disappeared and the Great Hall was absolutely radiant, having been restored to its former glory.

Photo courtesy of the
Royal Norwegian Embassy
Santa was present at the lighting ceremony, much to the delight of the many children who waited in line to meet him.

Ambassador Aas recognized the two dignitaries on the stage with him, Lauren C. Vaughan, Secretary of the District of Columbia, and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security at Georgetown University.

He then went on to say that perhaps people consider the United States and Norway an odd couple, one very large and the other tiny. He emphasized, however, that both countries are Nordic nations and called his listeners’ attention to the extensive poster exhibit on display near the stage. Entitled “Norway-USA: Partners in the Polar Regions,” this interesting exhibit from the Fram Museum in Oslo illustrates the history of this partnership.

He concluded his remarks by declaring, “On behalf of the people of Norway, I give you this tree! God Jul!”

Davis then introduced Secretary Vaughan, who offered greetings from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the people of the District of Columbia. She thanked Norway for the spectacular tree that symbolizes the strong cultural and political bonds between the people of the two countries. She wished everyone a season of peace and of love.

Next Davis introduced Ambassador Verveer, who first thanked Norway for the stately tree in the magnificent building. She said Union Station is an ideal place for this tree because it is a crossroads for travelers and a meeting place for Washingtonians. She went on to thank Norway for its strong commitment to world peace, which puts it in the forefront for peace around the globe. She also thanked Norway for its generosity in supporting a range of causes including humanitarian needs, the protection of the environment, and the equality of women. She ended by exclaiming, “Thank you, Norway!”

Ambassador Verveer then had the honor of lighting the splendid 32-foot tree with its beautiful snowflakes, small U.S. and Norwegian flags, and 20,000 lights. When she flipped the switch, oohs and ahs immediately went up from the assembled crowd.

Then the major entertainment portion of the evening began. The invited performer was the well-known Norwegian singer Jardar Johansen, who hails from Tromsø in the northernmost part of Norway. He delighted the crowd as he enthusiastically sang many popular Norwegian and American Christmas classics. His performance was streamed live to the world on Facebook.

The ceremony ended with the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who had gifts for all of the children present.

This popular annual event was attended by hundreds of enthusiastic people, Norwegians and Americans, travelers and locals. Surely everyone went away with very positive feelings toward Norway. Tusen takk, Norge!

The tree and exhibit will remain in the Great Hall until the end of December.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.