The Iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree


The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree remains one of the most iconic images of the holiday season in New York City – The Rockefeller Center

Andrew Perhac, Prospect Staff Writer

There is no place like New York City  during the holidays!  Store windows are decorated with amazing displays. Santa is ringing his bells, Christmas music is playing throughout the festive streets and people are bustling along dressed in their warm winter clothes.  Best of all is the Rockefeller  Center Christmas Tree which has been delighting viewers for decades.

 The first tree was erected in 1931 during the Depression when Rockefeller Center was still being built.  Construction workers put up a 20-foot balsam fir tree and decorated it with cranberries, garlands of paper made by the workers’ families, and even a few tin cans.  The first official tree was erected in 1933 and became a holiday tradition. The famous skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza opened in 1936.

Now the giant tree arrives in Manhattan each year in the middle of November.  Over the years it has come by truck, barge, or plane. The tree is usually a Norway Spruce between 69 and 100 feet tall. The largest tree so far was displayed in 1999 and was a 100-foot tree from Killingworth, CT. 

 The lighting of the tree always occurs on the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. Since 1997, the lighting has been broadcast live on NBC’s Christmas in Rockefeller Center  telecast.  In preparation, workers build scaffolding around the tree so that they can hang the lights. This year, 50,000 multi-colored LED lights were hung on the tree. The star on top is made of Swarovski crystals and was created in 2018 by the architect Daniel Libeskind.  It weighs 900 pounds. In 1969, artist Valerie Clarebout created 12 towering angel sculptures made out of wire.  They were added to the Channel Gardens in front of the tree near  Fifth Avenue.

It is estimated that 125 million people visit the tree at Rockefeller Center each year. It is taken down during the first week of January. Since 2007, The tree has been donated to Habitat for Humanity  and turned into lumber to build homes for people in need.  This seems a fitting ending  for something that has brought much pleasure to so many people.