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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Five, four, three, two, one, blast off...



'Tis the season for the lighting of Christmas trees in public spaces.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) We wish you a Merry Christmas...

BLOCK: Last night at Union Station, here in Washington, D.C., a 32-foot tree was illuminated. It's decorated each year by the Norwegian Embassy as a gift to the American people. But what caught our eye this year was the unusual choice of decoration, and Norway's Ambassador to the U.S. Kare Aas joins me to explain.

Ambassador Aas, there are hundreds of these ornaments - unlikely ornaments. What are they?

AMBASSADOR KARE AAS: There are actually 700 ornaments on the tree. They are symbolizing "The Scream," the painting of Edvard Munch.

BLOCK: "The Scream?"

AAS: As you know, "The Scream" is one of Edvard Munch's masterpieces.

BLOCK: So that ghostly figure pressing his hands up to his cheeks and screaming, there are 700 of those all over this tree.

AAS: There are 700, yes. And it's really beautiful.

BLOCK: Well, you know, it's funny, because when I think of Christmas, I don't necessarily think of "The Scream."

AAS: Sometimes, you know, when I prepare for Christmas, I really feel that I'm scared from time to time...


BLOCK: You do.

AAS: ...and it's too hectic. And it's also - sometimes also very nervous for preparing the Christmas. So I think, in fact, also "The Scream" symbolizes sort of an angst which some people have before Christmas.

BLOCK: You think it's appropriate, actually, for sort of the pre-Christmas tension.

AAS: I think so. I think so. But also, I think it's important also to underline more seriously that this was 150 years since Edward Munch was born.

BLOCK: Aha, so it's the 150th anniversary of his birth.

AAS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And we have been celebrating Edvard Munch all over the world in 2013.

BLOCK: Well, you have 700 of these "Scream" ornaments, Ambassador Aas. What do you do with them after the tree comes down?

AAS: Well, we're taking down the tree in January. I think that we will give these 700 ornaments as gifts to colleagues and American interlocutors, I would say.

BLOCK: Oh really? That's your sort of diplomatic outreach...


AAS: Yeah, it is. But I'm not sure, Melissa, whether you also know it but this is actually also a reflective ornament. And these reflective ornaments are used in Norway particularly among the younger population, when they walk to school, when they go to visit friends so that the cars can see them when they're walking out in the streets, and in the dark season of the year.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

AAS: Could be also helpful to many citizens of this, even as they're walking around - hmm. And then, of course, we hope that more Americans will use these reflective ornaments in the future.

BLOCK: You're very practical, aren't you?

AAS: We are always very practical, the Norwegians.


BLOCK: Well, Ambassador Aas, happy holidays. Thanks for talking with us.

AAS: Yeah, yeah, thanks to you.

BLOCK: That's Norway's ambassador to the United States Kare Aas.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: One last thing before I let you go. How do you say the scream in Norwegian?

AAS: Skrik.

BLOCK: Skrik.

AAS: Skrika. You should start to learn Norwegian because you take all the words immediately. I'm very really, really, really impressed.


AAS: Skrik.

BLOCK: Skrik, it sounds scarier in Norwegian...

AAS: Yeah. Yeah. It's scarier than the scream. Yes, of course.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language)




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