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Washington's Embassy Row brings tradition home

capitol December 23, 1996
Web posted at: 3:00 a.m. EST (0800 GMT)

From Correspondent Rebecca Cooper

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For most people celebrating the holidays, home is where the heart is, but for diplomats, Christmas is an extension of the embassy.

From the Canadian Embassy to the German ambassador's residence, from one end of Embassy Row to the other, countries use native customs to help staff far from home celebrate the holidays.

Staff at Ireland's embassy help remember home with a traditional Irish Christmas candle.

"It symbolizes friendship, welcome and hospitality to the passing stranger," said Mrs. Dermot Gallagher. "There are no strangers during the Christmas Octave in Ireland."


At the large Russian compound and the ultramodern embassy of Finland, Christmas trees express different native traditions. Canada marks the Yuletide season by importing enormous trees from Nova Scotia and decorating them with hockey sticks, moose traps and lobster traps.

Oh Christmas tree

The Germans are proud of their country's claim to popularizing the decorated Christmas tree.


"It goes back to the 15th century already. It's an old Germanic custom, and it's unthinkable to have a Christmas Eve in Germany without a Christmas tree," explained Ambassador Juergan Chrobog of the German Embassy.

But at the Estonian Embassy, they contend that Estonia is the home of the world's first Christmas tree.

"The earliest recorded instance of an ... evergreen tree being used in conjunction with Christmas was in Estonia, in Tallinn, in the year 1441," said Ambassador Toomas Ilves of Estonia.

The Mexican Embassy proudly displays its ubiquitous contribution to holiday tradition: the poinsettia plant, known south of the border as flore del nochebuena.

Symbol of hope


Ghana's Christmas tree and the Japanese ambassador's origami decorations are off limits to a public often kept at bay by the tight security common at embassy compounds. The current hostage crisis in Peru has only served to close more doors to the world's Christmas celebrations along Embassy Row.

But Christmas celebrants at the Philippines Embassy light brilliant Christmas lanterns as a symbol everyone can understand, a symbol of hope.

"It symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, but for most Filipinos it [also] symbolizes hope, aspirations, optimism," said the embassy's Eduardo Pablo Maglaya. "Perhaps Filipinos are the most optimistic people in the world."

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