Monday, December 1, 2008

Blog Exclusive: Interview with Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen

Friendship Trees
Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strømmen took a minute to talk with Viking magazine about the annual Norwegian Christmas tree ceremony at Union Station in Washington, D.C. This year, Norway gives the U.S. a 32-foot tall spruce as a symbol of friendship and gratitude. The lighting takes place on Nov. 25.

Q: Why is the tree ceremony at Union Station an important tradition for both Americans and Norwegians?

Ambassador Strømmen: Norwegian Christmas at Union Station is a month-long festival celebrating Norwegian culture and the holidays. Since the festival is now in its 12th year, the tree lighting ceremony has become a holiday season kick-off for many people in Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the tree intended to symbolize?

AS: The tree is a symbol of friendship between the United States and Norway. It also expresses Norway’s gratitude for assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.

Q: Do you include any other Norwegian Christmas traditions in the ceremony at Union Station?

AS: On the morning of the ceremony, the Norwegian Embassy helps kick-off the U.S. Marines Toys for Tots campaign. Children from a local elementary school attend, visit with Santa Claus, and see a giant model train start winding its way through a landscape of Norwegian fjords and mountains. The ceremony itself features choir music, speeches and the tree lighting. We also have a Norwegian-American holiday bazaar on a weekend in early December. Norwegian performers in collaboration with the New York Opera Society sing "Music of the sea: A Norwegian Christmas" at the National Gallery of Art, and there will be a Norwegian jazz concert at the Kennedy Center.

What organizations are involved with making this event happen?

AS: The greater Washington chapter of Sons of Norway and other local Norwegian-American organizations contribute, especially to the holiday bazaar. Each year someone is invited to flip the switch to light the 8,000 lights on the tree (TBD for 2008). Previous attendees have been Princess Märtha Louise, the former Mayor of Oslo, and Earl Hyman, whose career in acting was inspired by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

A Norwegian Christmas tree is also gifted each year to England and placed on display in London’s Trafalgar Square. This tree, like the tree given to the United States, is a symbol of friendship as well as a show of thanks for support during World War II.

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