I Scored an Invite to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Here's What Actually Goes Down There.

by Jacqueline Kehoe Jan 5, 2016

I was fairly certain I could picture it with a staggering level of accuracy. Hoards of tuxedo-donning men clapping delicately between their favorite Vivaldi and Paganini pieces, ladies smugly assuming they were viewed as just trophies when in reality they were proud Mensa members and could chiffonade basil in their sleep. I, on the other hand, get most of my basil intake from someone else’s kitchen and had borrowed a black cocktail gown (are “cocktail gowns” even a thing?) from an orphaned box after a friend’s garage sale, in an attempt to avoid recreating junior prom ‘05.

The sheer idea of mingling in this elitist-but-have-actually-earned-it crowd made me pack some anti-nausea pills. Great — an entire night dedicated to me faking being farther along on the bell curve than I actually am, pretending that I have pseudo-intellectual interests that go beyond Neil deGrasse Tyson and Making a Murderer, smiling and nodding in three-inch heels when I’d almost — almost — rather be in some sweaty club gagging on shots of house tequila. Almost. Luckily, this wasn’t prom ‘05.

And luckily, I can predict the future just about as well as I can chiffonade my herbs.

Where it all goes down

For the first time in Peace Prize history, the annual concert in Oslo, Norway, was held at the Telenor Arena. Since 1994, the concert has been held at Oslo Spektrum — a venue that holds a maximum of 11,000 people. Telenor brings that number up to 23,000, and the spectacle has doubled in size with its audience. Every December an entire week is devoted to this humanitarian tradition, but 2015 spelled a year for going bigger. This is no longer just a gathering to celebrate peace; this is a rock concert, stand-up comedy, and world peace wrapped up in one shiny, Norwegian package aimed at the masses (tickets start at roughly $55). This is the new Peace Prize Concert.

The 2015 NPPC brought together acts like Jay Leno, Jason DeRulo, A-Ha, and Aurora. Last year had acts like Queen Latifah and Steven Tyler, and celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine frequent the occasion, too. Though it’s never been a low-profile gig (hosts in 2001 were Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep, for God’s sake), the NPPC is taking a, for lack of better words, “millennial twist.”

How it all goes down

The beginning of this year’s show opened up with Aurora: a curiously-dark 19-year-old whose vocal emotion rivals Adele’s. Katy Perry even tweeted (when Aurora was just 17), “Finally. New music that makes my heart aflutter.” She raised the eyebrows of the entire crowd (few of us are early adopters like Katy Perry, it seems) and put a stop to our collective breathing. Jay Leno then broke the trance with a few quick quips on America. For starters, he apologized for the Kardashians, and reminded everyone that Bieber is from Canada. As one of only a handful of Americans there, I was grateful for the public reminder. The lights and megatrons and fire displays pressed on, a conveyor belt of acts like Kygo, MØ (her song “Lean On” blew up recently), and Emel Mathlouthi taking turns on the stage.

That last name — Emel Mathlouthi — is one you should note. She’s a Tunisian singer, songwriter, and composer, and though she didn’t perform in English like the rest of the acts, her music isn’t one where you need to speak the language. Every year a performer from the winner’s country gets selected, and her voice openly echoes the struggle so many Tunisians have witnessed.

This brings us to the actual honorees of the event, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet: three men and one woman working to create pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. That was when their president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was ousted. A political vacuum formed, creating space for even further atrocity, but with the Quartet’s work, democracy has successfully been established. The citizens are voting, and a democratic constitution has been adopted. For this the quartet has been awarded roughly $1.2 million dollars, in addition to the honor of winning possibly the most prestigious award on the face of the planet. Clearly this is a big win for Tunisia, but it is also a big win for all of us in a time that otherwise seems so threatening and hopeless.

The quartet came out toward the end of the concert to a round of applause that would fade away for a split second and then come back with a new fervor, hinting that though our hands were growing weary, there was clearly no justification in our minds to stop. Videos played, on both sides of the arena, anecdotes from Tunisian citizens, demonstrating what they’ve gone through — and accomplished — in the last decade. Though concert is an apt term, “celebration” rings just as true. These 20,000-some people gathered to celebrate the good in the world through music, song, and one hell of a light show. This wasn’t some hoity-toity, unpalatable display of intelligence and prestige — this was a celebration of the best parts of being human.

Get with the program, America

When I mentioned that Jay Leno apologized for America, he clearly wasn’t speaking to Americans. The vast majority of the audience was European, and I even received an, “Oh, I didn’t realize Americans were invited to this event,” upon mentioning where I’m from. Though the Nobel Prize Concert and Ceremony are televised in over 150 countries, it’s never been something America has, well, cared about.

Why? Are we so ethnocentric that world peace doesn’t matter? Does the entire event reek of pretension, alienating the many? Or is it simply that we’re in our own little bubble armed with weapons too weak to pop it (or the plain fact we’re just not trying)? And if we’re just not aware things like this exist, can it really be held against us?

However, with the Nobel Prize coming into itself, expanding and becoming increasingly modern, it doesn’t seem long before America will inevitably catch on, bubble be damned. For the next few years, those that take part (either in person or via YouTube — the spectacle is viewable in its entirety), will be the trendsetters. As those who do travel and possess passports crave experiencing something “good” in the world, it only seems a matter of time for it to become mainstream on this side of the pond.

The new millennial vacation is Oslo in December

The Peace Prize Concert isn’t even the half of it. To be in Oslo the second week of December is an experience in itself — an experience travel snobs tired of island vacations, people naturally opposed to Yacht Week, and those who are simply curious will be predisposed to seek out. One of the more emotionally gripping moments of the celebration is the annual torch walk: nearly a thousand individuals gather to walk down Oslo’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johans gate, holding torches in solidarity and in celebration of peace. They march down the street, Christmas bells and lights showing the way, toward the Grand Hotel where the Peace Prize winners line the balcony to even more thunderous applause. Though it must be quite the sight for the winners, it’s quite an experience for those in the hubbub of the march, too. This year the energy of the Tunisians — their sheer happiness — was tangible through roars of laughter, chanting, and communal dancing.

So next winter, don’t write off putting yourself in Oslo. Low season means few tourists on the streets, and the second week of December in particular means you’ll witness something most people have only vaguely heard of. This is the closest most of us will ever get to such a noble tradition (pun intended), and even being a small part of it on the streets or in the arena is a memory that will last a lifetime.

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