The Rockefeller Christmas tree is indisputably one of the world’s most recognizable sites. Its lighting ceremony in early December marks the beginning of New York’s holiday season and its sparkling presence throughout the holidays makes the city magical.
In 1931, construction workers building the Rockefeller Center pooled together some money for a Christmas tree. It was just a 20-foot high fir tree but was lovingly decorated by the workers and their families with garlands of paper, cranberries, and tin cans. A modest Christmas tree brought some joy to the otherwise joyless Depression-era festivities. Two years later, in 1933, the Rockefeller Center decided to host a tree lighting ceremony and turn it into an annual tradition.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree measures 60 feet to 100 feet (18-30 meters) high and 45 feet wide. Each year, Rockefeller Center’s head gardener scouts the region for potential candidates. The process of finding the perfect tree takes months, during which the gardener and his team visit nurseries throughout the tri-state area. At the same time, trees can be submitted for consideration by owners through the Rockefeller Center’s website. The perfect tree is chosen for its size, its strength (and subsequent ability to support heavy ornaments), and Christmas tree shape. Once the final decision is made, the chosen tree is transported to New York City for the festivities. Even though trucks and barges are typically used to transport the tree to the city, it was once flown in on a transport plane from Ohio for the 1998 holiday season. When the tree finally arrives in the city, dressed in giant red bows or banners, it is maneuvered through the streets by a truck to its final destination. It is the narrowness of the city streets that actually determines the tree’s height limit of 100 feet (30 m). The largest tree in the Rockefeller Center’s history, which was 100 feet tall, came from Connecticut for Christmas of 1999.
A far cry from its Depression-era predecessors, a selected tree nowadays is decorated by 50,000 rainbow LED lights and crowned by a spectacular star. The Rockefeller Christmas tree’s first 550-pound Swarovski Star, created in 2004, was adorned with 25,000 crystals and measured 9.5 feet in diameter. In 2018 the star was redesigned by the famed architect Daniel Libeskind, who created a sparkling vision of 3 million dazzling Swarovski crystals across 70 triangular spikes. The star alone weighed 900 pounds!
Every holiday season, the city anticipates the arrival of a special tree that remains on display at the Rockefeller Plaza through at least the first week of the new year. More than a half million people pass by the tree each day while it is on display, as its presence is a focal point of New York’s legendary, magical holiday atmosphere.