Washington, D.C. is a city of small details. All over town there are tiny monuments, statues and recognitions that most people don’t realize even exist. I’m also continuously amazed at the linkages between our nation and other countries found throughout town. One of the most surprising to me can be found in Washington’s Union Station.
Union Station is a gorgeous train station of the Gilded Age variety. The ceilings are massive and well designed and even the smallest person feels like a Senator walking through the concourses. Every Christmas, there is a gigantic Christmas tree in the center of the building, adding to the frenzied holiday atmosphere. Until recently though, I didn’t realize the significance of this tree.
For fourteen years, the Royal Norwegian Embassy has donated to Union Station a 30-foot Christmas tree. Upon closer examination, one can see strands not of normal garland, but tiny flags representing the United States and Norway. In an odd way, this tree is a living testimony to the friendship between Norway and the United States. But why?
The primary reason for the gift of course is to serve as an illustration of the warm relations between the two nations; but this in itself is not an odd occurrence in Washington. Around town and throughout the year, one can find many such expressions all from nations eager to find tangible ways in which to show diplomatic amiability. But this is something more. I was surprised to find this statement from the Norwegian Embassy about the tree:
It also expresses Norway’s gratitude for assistance received from the United States during and after World War II.
Most Americans don’t realize what the war experience was like in Norway. Many books have been written on the subject, but in brief, the Nazi occupation of Norway had a profound effect on the country that continues today. The war years helped define a sense of Norwegian identity and impacted political decisions for decades.
While the phrase above may be a simple one, the passion and feeling behind it are immense. As Americans, it may be hard for us, especially 60 years later, to appreciate the gratitude felt by many for our efforts in WWII. While the war had an incredible impact on American society, it reshaped Europe forever.
So if you pass through Union Station during the holidays, make sure to stop at the tree and reflect not just on the friendship it symbolizes, but the incredible significance and meaning behind that friendship.