- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003

On the roof of the world, where natural light is a scarce commodity, Christmas decorations take on a whole new meaning.

That’s why Norwegians get so excited about trimming trees — it’s the brightest thing they can do during December days that see just four hours of sunlight.

“The nights from November to April — they’re very, very long,” said skiing legend and Olympic gold medalist Stein Eriksen, who flipped on the lights adorning a 30-foot balsam tree in Union Station’s Main Hall Tuesday night.

Since Thanksgiving, the Scandinavian nation has been bringing Christmas cheer to Washington, a decorative kinship it began sharing with friendly nations after being liberated from Nazi occupation.

“After World War II, we started giving trees to allies,” said Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek, who presided over the festivities as a large crowd — invited guests as well as passengers heading for rush-hour trains — looked on.

Londoners were the first to receive a tree from the country’s ample forests. The District has enjoyed one for the past seven years, along with other holiday pleasures that include a fjord-themed holiday model train set (in Union Station’s West Hall) and this weekend’s Norwegian-American Christmas bazaar.

“We see it as a very important tradition,” Mr. Vollebaek said.

After the tree-lighting ceremony, a select group drove uptown to the ambassador’s residence on Embassy Row for smorgasbord specialties, including gravlax, whole poached salmon, herring, brandad (cod with garlic and mashed potatoes), Norwegian meatballs (don’t dare call them “Swedish” in this embassy), apple-celery salad, fruits, cheeses and chocolates.

Many of the ladies wore traditional dresses called bunads, which indicate regional identity, while one young man looked as if he could have walked off the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

That would be Sondre Lerche, one of Norway’s top pop stars. Trekking east at the end of a long American concert tour, Mr. Lerche, 20, said he was looking forward to being home for “the biggest and best holiday of the year.”

“In Norway,” he said with an elfin grin, “the whole month of December is one big Christmas party.”

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