Union Station is one of the most beautifully decorated venues in the city during the holiday season, and the lighting of the grand Christmas tree has become a cherished event among many Washingtonians. The tree is a gift from Norway as a symbol of friendship between the two countries.
The tradition was started by the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC as a local show of gratitude for American support to the people of Norway following WWII. Over the last 18 years, the Norwegian Embassy has invested a lot of effort in making this event a long-standing tradition.
However, what started out as a showcase of Norwegian culture – and let’s not forget gratitude – has dwindled into a sideshow for busy commuters.
Years ago when we first moved to the US, we recall the Christmas tree – which was symbolically brought all the way from a Norwegian mountainside – at the center of the great hall at Union Station. An impressive Christmas bazaar offered an extravaganza of Norwegian gifts and crafts, and kids and adults alike were in awe with the model train display featuring the beautiful Norwegian landscape and treasured landmarks.
Arriving at Union Station during the month of December, one couldn’t help feeling proud to be a Scandinavian. Many Americans, too, were impressed with the show of force of Scandinavian culture right at the heart of Washington, DC and just steps from Capitol Hill.
This year, like last year, the tree has been relegated to the side of Union Station, outdoors right where commuters rush up and down the escalators to the DC Metro. There was no bazaar and no model train. And, to our dismay, the tree is fake. The very source of pride – the star of the tree-lighting event – leaving a lasting sense of earnest gratitude in the hearts of those passing by, is now a reusable 32-foot piece of plastic (most likely produced in China).
Is it because Union Station has been under renovation lately? We don’t know. But we know we are not the only ones to be disappointed.
It is worth noting that since last year’s tree-lighting event, which carried an environmental theme, the tree has been fake. Granted, chopping down a giant pine tree in Norway and shipping it across the Atlantic tags a big carbon footprint to the tree. But how about a beautiful Douglas fir or Colorado Blue that can be replanted when the holiday season is over? There are many voices out there recommending a real tree over a fake tree as the preferable environmental choice. The eco-footprint is about the same when considering the chemicals that go into making a fake tree, and the fact that many of them eventually end up in landfills.
Having said all that, we greatly enjoyed the warm cranberry juice (yes, even the “gløg” was spared – but do try this traditional mulled wine at home) and the lively atmosphere. This year’s theme was a tribute to Norwegian music, and musician Ida Jenshus who has established herself as Norway’s leading country musician, did an amazing job showcasing Norwegian talent. We loved her performance!
If you’d like to know what Norwegian music is all about these days, scan the QR code and open in Spotify to access a playlist with the best Norwegian artists, curated by the Norwegian Embassy. Curiously, Ida Jenshus is not featured in that play list!? But be sure to look her up by name to hear the characteristic sound that won her Spellemannsprisen (the Norwegian Grammy) three times in a row.
Did we mention the flags? True to Scandinavian Christmas traditions, the tree is decorated with Norwegian and American flags, hanging side-by-side. It looks festive!
We cross our needles and hope for a return to a real Christmas tree in 2016.