Despite a global pandemic, the world’s most famous Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center tonight will light up New York City in a tradition that has been celebrated for nearly nine decades.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree has been a beacon of hope and holiday since its humble beginnings amid the Great Depression and World War II, September 11, and Hurricane Sandy.
The internet was full of viral jokes in November when this year’s tree from Oneonta, New York, got worse at its iconic location in the center of Rockefeller Plaza. It became an unofficial metaphor for 2020. “Even the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is fed up with 2020,” tweeted political scientist Ian Bremmer. There will be no public access to the 88th tree lighting ceremony this year due to the coronavirus, but viewers can watch the 11-ton 75-foot evergreen sky light up the night sky on NBC at 8 p.m. ET tonight.
The famous tradition began in 1931 during the construction of the Rockefeller Center during the Depression. Construction workers collected their money to buy a 20-foot balm and decorated it with cranberries, a few tin cans, and homemade paper garlands made by their families.
It was a sign of optimism when the workers lined up next to the tree on Christmas Eve to receive their wages while the country struggled with poverty during the Great Depression. It was in this very place – a year later – that Charles Ebbets took the iconic image of Rockefeller construction workers taking a break to have lunch. Her legs dangled from a hanging beam high above New York City. The photo became a symbol of American life, much like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center symbolized hope for the holidays.
1931: Construction workers line up for pay next to the first Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City at the height of the Great Depression in 1931. The workers raised their money to buy a modest 20-foot balm with cranberry string and decorate a few tin cans and homemade paper garlands from their families
1933: With the completion of the Rockefeller Center (then called the RCA building). They decided to make the Christmas tree an annual tradition and held the very first tree lighting ceremony using a 40 foot evergreen strung with 700 lights
1936: The first ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza, under construction in mid-December 1936, cost $ 1
1936: On the occasion of the opening of an ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza, two tall Christmas trees were erected, on which a publicly accessible ice skating competition was held
1940: Revelers on Fifth Avenue stop to catch the Christmas spectacle at Rockefeller Center. After the Empire State Building was completed in 1932, Rockefeller Center was the only private construction project of its size in the city until after World War II
Two years later, in 1933, the opulent new tower at Rockefeller Center (then called the RCA Building) was completed, and the company decided to make the Christmas tree an annual one with the first official lighting ceremony of a 40-foot periwinkle being strung To make tradition with 700 lights. In 1936, they erected two trees to celebrate the opening of the ice rink, and also held an ice skating competition.
During World War II, three trees were set up to support the troops – one in red, one in white, and one in blue. The decor was patriotic but modest, and consisted of blue globes and stars painted with wood. None of the materials needed for the war effort could be used to cover the halls, and the trees were unlit for three years between 1942 and 1944 due to wartime rules.
Blackout rules have been introduced to ensure that no residual light from the city falls on the fleet of American ships in the port.
When the war ended in 1945, Rockefeller Center used six massive ultraviolet light projectors to celebrate the illusion that the tree’s 700 fluorescent globes were glowing in the dark.
“From the beginning, the tree was a meeting place and a reflection of what was happening in the world around us,” writes the Rockefeller Center website.
By 1950, the decorating process required 20 full-time workers, nine days, and extensive scaffolding. 1951 was the first year NBC televised the tree lighting ceremony on “The Kate Smith Show”.
Since then, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree has drawn approximately 750,000 visitors a day and an estimated 125 million people a year in the few weeks it is on display.
The tree is usually a Norwegian spruce and must meet the desired dimensions of 65 feet high and 35 feet wide; Narrow streets around Rockefeller Center limit the height. “You shouldn’t be able to see the sky through it,” said head gardener Erik Pauzé.
Typically the trees are around 75 feet tall, but they broke the record in 1999 with the largest evergreen tree ever gracing 30 Rock Plaza at 100 feet.
1942: The Second World War heralds an era of simple and patriotic designs with blue, unlit globes and painted wooden stars. No materials essential to the war effort were used to decorate the Rockefeller Center in 1942, and three humble evergreens (decorated in red, white, and blue) were raised in place of a large tree. Due to the blackout rules during the war, the Christmas trees were not lit between 1942 and 1944. The rules were put in place across the city to ensure that no shadows of American ships could be seen in the glowing lights of NYC
1952: The Christmas tree and decorations in the Rockfeller Center are given a more modern look. In the 1950s, the decorating process required 20 full-time workers, nine days, and extensive scaffolding. 1951 was the first year NBC televised the tree lighting ceremony on “The Kate Smith Show”.
1954: After the war ended, the Rockefeller Center celebrated the illusion that the tree’s 700 fluorescent globes were glowing in the dark with six massive ultraviolet light projectors
1960: The Christmas cheer hits Rockefeller Center with a splash of color in the annual Christmas tree lights. 4,000 onions were used to light the spruce
1961: The 85-foot spruce is hoisted into position in Rockefeller Center Plaza. After the winning tree has been felled, it is transported to New York City on a special telescopic trailer
1962: A couple in love are fascinated by the beauty of the scene after the Rockefeller Center’s traditional Christmas tree is lit. The couple is framed by wire snowmen in the Channel Gardens. The 50-year-old, 67-foot white spruce was the 30th tree raised in the popular holiday tradition
1978: Scenes from the 45th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Ceremony, with bell-bottomed revelers skating alongside characters from Sesame Street
Finding the perfect spruce takes care.
Pauzé roams the tri-state area attending kindergartens to keep an eye on potential candidates year-round. A helicopter is often used to explore the New England area from above. The perfect specimen tends to have a ‘great shape’ and an ability to carry heavy ornaments from its branches.
While the search for the ideal tree continues, individuals can also submit their own evergreens for consideration. In 2015, Albert Asendorf of Gardiner, New York offered its 78 foot high centerpiece. Erik Pauzé visited it once a week to fertilize and water it at 1,800 gallons per visit. He told CBS, “It was a great shape, beautiful branches, and when I came up and looked for it, the sun was shining right on it, making it even more beautiful.”
Former head gardener David P. Murbach said, “I think about it every day of the year.” Murbach held this responsibility for 26 years until his death in 2010. “You want personality: there is density, height and breadth that we need.” He added, “But some trees have a way of holding their branches. I don’t know how to call it other than character. ”
The final decision will be made in September. The winning tree is carried by a crane that is ceremoniously felled and then transported to New York City on a special telescopic trailer. Once, however, the tree arrived in Manhattan by barge after a two-day voyage on the Hudson River, during which Murbach carefully managed every detail down to the tide maps. In 1998 the spruce trampled Hitched a ride from Richfield, Ohio on the world’s largest cargo plane.
Once it arrives in Manhattan, the tree is relatively low maintenance. It is kept in a pan that contains 90 gallons of water, which it can easily absorb in a day. No further efforts will be made to maintain it during the holiday season. “Straight water, just good old New York water,” Pauzé told NY1.
In 2007 incandescent lamps were replaced by energy-efficient LED lights. The tree made history again in 2017 when 100% of its electricity was generated by hundreds of solar panels mounted on 30 Rockefellers. The two steps taken together reduced daily electricity consumption by about 2,200 kilowatt hours – that’s 2,000 square feet of usage in a whole month.
The tree didn’t make history until 2017: for the first time, it was illuminated with energy-efficient LED lights powered by hundreds of solar panels on 30 Rockefellers
The current celebration has come a long way since its humble start. Today’s towering spruce is adorned with 50,000 multicolored LED lights strung on eight kilometers of wire and topped with a glittering star that weighs 900 pounds and is covered in three million Swarovski crystals. The star made of shatterproof glass has 70 spikes and was designed by the renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind.
A team of designers spends two weeks decorating the tree, carefully wrapping layers after layers of light around each branch. After making its dazzling debut at the annual lighting ceremony, the tree will remain a key element through January 6th of the New Year when it is mined and donated to Habitat for Humanity.
This year’s 75-foot boat from Oneonta, New York sparked a string of memes and jokes about its ragged and shabby appearance when it arrived in New York City on November 14th. Some compared the tree to Charlie Brown’s extremely sad looking tree in the Peanuts cartoons.
The spruce made further news after an adult owl accidentally accompanied the tree on its 170-mile journey to New York City. The tiny, dehydrated, and hungry owl named Rocky was nursed back to health and released into the wild after workers discovered it was hiding in the branches.
While the usual spectacle draws nearly 750,000 visitors every day, this year will be different due to coronavirus restrictions. Spectators require a ticket and are limited to just five minutes to see the tree.
“This year the tree is of vital importance to us,” said Rob Speyer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Tishman Speyer (owner of Rockefeller Center). “The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center always represents the holiday season, but it was also a symbol of hope and resilience … 2020 was a difficult year, but New Yorkers have held out and we are determined to get better and better stronger. We are particularly proud to continue the joyful tradition this year. ‘
1999: Thousands of spectators brave the freezing temperatures to watch the 67th illumination of the tree. The typical tree usually measures around 75 feet, but was a record 100 feet tall in 1999 (see illustration). The spruce came from Killingworth, Connecticut
1999: NBC began broadcasting the tree lights in 1999 and referred to the entire ceremony as “Christmas at Rockefeller Center” on NBC. It first aired on NBC in 1933
2018: The Rockefeller Christmas tree’s gorgeous starlight topper received an upgrade in 2018 to this glistening £ 900 piece, covered in three million Swarovski crystals and boasting 70 spikes. It was designed by the renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind
2020: While the usual spectacle draws almost 750,000 visitors every day, this year will be different due to restrictions of the coronavirus. Spectators require a ticket and are limited to just five minutes to see the tree